For the parents & caregivers of children with special needs
Published in ChicagoNow, November 8, 2013 (cartoon by Marcia Liss)
Some of the most amazing people I have ever seen are parents and caregivers in waiting rooms of speech pathologists, occupational therapists, play therapists, physical therapists, and almost any place that works with children who have special needs. Waiting can be very challenging for these children. Sometimes the kids scream, cry, throw toys, have tantrums, or act aggressively. Having waited in these rooms as the grandparent of a child with special needs for eight years, I have witnessed countless acts of kindness, patience, empathy, and love.
The National Center Learning Disabilities recently ran a contest for parents, asking them to submit their stories in just six words. They had nearly 2,000 entries! Here are just a few:
He succeeds when given the chance!
She sees life in amazing ways.
Two autistic boys, twice the love!
Not a puzzle piece, a person.
Hope today, fear and worry tomorrow.
We have the courage to believe.
We will always celebrate little miracles.
Our strengths, not weaknesses, define us!
Our differences make us all unique.
Parent: motivator, advocate, cheerleader, "squeaky wheel."
The statement that best summed up those parents and caregivers in waiting rooms was, “We shall travel this road together.” I have seen fellow travelers hugging, singing, reading, building with blocks, and holding dysregulated children on their laps. I have seen mothers with several young children balancing their needs with those of the child with special needs. I have seen parents glow with pride when the therapist emerges at the end of a session to share even the smallest kernel of positive news.
When one of my granddaughters was three, we often sat together on the floor of a waiting room the size of a closet while her big sister went to speech therapy. I would never trade those precious moments we spent together. Sometimes we colored, drew, played cards, or read books. Other times the therapist loaned us little animals and she created elaborate stories with them. The other adults who shared this tiny space with us were awesome. They always had something nice to say about both of my granddaughters as they waited for their own children.
I especially remember a mother of two boys with autism, one of whom was a teenager. While they waited for his younger brother, she worked very hard to engage the older boy, who would sometimes make loud sounds. With everything that was on her plate, the mother worried that he was frightening my young granddaughter. To the contrary, he was teaching her a valuable life lesson. Like most children her age, my granddaughter noticed the boy was different but had no negative association to his behavior. Seeing him receive love and attention from his mother and being able to talk about his behavior in a matter of fact manner helped her develop empathy. She learned that, even if he yelled and made strange sounds, he was someone worthy of love and caring.
So what are my six words for all of those who wait with children who have special needs? Thanks for your love and courage.