“I’m not sure what your child is getting out of this.”
Every parent of every kid with developmental disabilities has cringed at these words.
“It’s like this,” I explain. “Every child has capacity to learn. Some the size of a 50-gallon drum. Others, a sand pail. Mine, a thimble.”
I say, “Fill ‘er up.”
It takes more effort to fill my daughter’s thimble than to fill her brother’s oversized drum. Just about everything you can pour into my son is absorbed. Very little stays with Noni.
For her, yeoman efforts produce miniscule gains. Do we give up?
On the contrary, we persist. We try, everything, over and over. Persistence defies prognosticators who say your child with special needs will never do this or that.
By comparison, Noni’s siblings seem to thrive on autopilot.
Do we treat our typical children differently than our child with disabilities? Yes, often, because their individual needs are wildly diverse.
Our parenting philosophy is not to give our kids equal treatment, but to give each what he or she needs.
For families like ours, same is not equal.
For example, we let go of math facts and science experiments for Noni because that knowledge doesn’t stick enough to matter to her future. Unfortunately for her siblings, we’re all about math and science.
Too bad so sad for sister Jacy, routinely responsible for cleaning up both sides of their shared bedroom, because she can, and Noni cannot.
Not fair, she complained once, launching her mother into a loud and lively lecture: What’s fair at the moment of birth for one sister to receive a litany of talents and gifts and another to draw a short straw?
From this perspective, tidying up is a privilege!
While learning is an imperative for one sister, for another it’s a minor metric. They both attend school for different reasons and their individual measures of success look nothing alike.
If learning is the only lens we look through, we’ll miss the positive outcomes achieved by the child with intellectual disabilities whose inclusion imbues her with a feeling of belonging in the school experience that defines childhood.
Our local safety town teacher concluded our 5-year-old’s participation in this summer ritual was a waste of time. The little stinker never stopped at stop signs and eagerly took candy from strangers.
Stop signs and stranger danger would take many more years to stick.
Her shining smile and impish clapping while pedaling alongside age mates is the moment's monumental takeaway.