It’s normal to feel distressed when you first learn that your eagerly awaited child has a disability. If you are religious, you may wonder why God has ‘punished’ you.
At LITTLE EDEN, we strongly believe that children with profound intellectual and physical disability are a gift from God, sent to make us better people. They teach us to be more accepting, patient, understanding and loving.
Our late co-founder, Domitilla Rota Hyams wrote, “These children, with a far-away look, have souls more beautiful than the sun. Even with a reduced mind and understanding, the soul is complete. God could have created them normal, but they are as they are. There must be a reason for it which we cannot fathom. So, we accept their creation and God’s design.”
What can you learn from a child with disabilities?
If we let them, these special children will help us grow and learn. They open the window to a different perspective on life, and teach us how to deal more graciously with the everyday hardship and challenges we all face. Here are six things you can learn from a child with disabilities:
What parent hasn’t dreamed or planned their child’s future? We expect them to be good at sports like dad. Or creative and artistic like mom. Or they’ll be the first doctor in the family.
These expectations often result in disappointment, when it becomes obvious that the child doesn’t have the talent or the inclination to follow the path that’s been laid out for them. In some cases, kids’ self-esteem suffers because they cannot measure up to parents’ expectations, and they may worry that their parents love them less because of it.
Children with disabilities teach us to accept individuals as they are, not as we would like them to be. We can’t compare these special kids with other children, because they are not like them. There is absolutely no pressure for them to ‘fit in’ or ‘belong’ or compete with other kids. We accept that they will reach their development milestones in their own time, if at all.
This non-judgemental acceptance relieves so much of the stress we inflict on ourselves and our children.
In today’s busy world, patience is a virtue in short supply. Everything must be done quickly as we rush through life, trying to juggle work, home, school and extra mural activities, constantly urging the kids to hurry up.
But you can’t rush a child with a disability. They may be slow to move, or need more time to process, understand and react to what you are saying. You may need to speak more slowly, or walk more slowly to accommodate them. Being forced to take things slowly can have a calming effect. There is absolutely no point in getting upset or frustrated about something that cannot be changed.
Take a deep breath and slow down a little. You may find you enjoy life more.
3. Make peace with imperfection
If you’ve been privileged to attend our Christmas concerts in the past, or watched the virtual version, you may have noticed that there are moments that don’t go as planned, regardless of how many times we practise.
Someone may muddle up the words, or forget them entirely in the excitement of the moment. They may sing out of tune or beat their drum at the wrong time. Shepherds’ headdresses may slip askew. The toy donkey may be standing on its head instead of its feet. The show may not be technically perfect …..
But it doesn’t have to be. It is enjoyable and heart-warming which is exactly what it’s meant to be! The point is to have fun, to share the magic of the season, and to delight in being able to all join in and perform together.
As adults, we sometimes lose sight of this, especially at this time of the year, when we want to host the perfect family get together. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking an extravagant meal, why not go for something simpler that will allow you to relax and enjoy your guests’ company more?
Serving drinks in mismatched glasses … running out of paper napkins and having to use a sheet of kitchen paper – these are not disasters. This day is about sharing love and laughter and just being together. Stressing out because things aren’t perfect, or don’t go exactly as planned, robs you of the joy of these special moments.
If you spend time around children with disabilities you may be surprised how they manage to squeeze the maximum amount of joy from everyday experiences that others are too busy or too wrapped up in themselves to notice. Watch how your child lifts her face to the sunshine and delights in the sensation of warmth and light. Or how fascinated she is by the intricate pattern of veins on a fallen leaf. Or how every single lick of ice cream is savoured.
We all start off life like this. As very young children, we are filled with wonder and excitement. But everyday life wears away at the wonder until we no longer see or appreciate the little things.
Not so for those affected by profound intellectual disability, who may retain this child-like delight in the world throughout their lives. Being around these people offers us a constant reminder to enjoy each moment to the full. It’s the secret to a happy life.
5. Courage and fortitude
Living with a disability can be challenging. Along with accepting their own limitations, children affected by disability need courage and fortitude to get through every day. Stiff muscles may cause discomfort. Children affected by physical disability may be more susceptible to illness.
The courage with which they accept and deal with their lot in life can inspire us to meet our ups and downs with more fortitude.
6. Compassion and kindness
Children with disabilities teach us to be nicer people! Human beings are programmed to help one another, particularly those who are smaller, older or weaker. If your child’s disabilities are obvious, you may frequently be surprised by the kindness of total strangers, stopping to help you manoeuvre a wheelchair up some steps, or simply gifting your child with a spontaneous smile.
Your child with disabilities may just restore your faith in human nature!
Other children in the family, if you have them, are likely to be noticeably more compassionate, caring and helpful for their age than their peers. They may also have a more highly developed protective instinct, and a closer relationship with their siblings. Creating a more close-knit family is another gift from your special child.
As you strive to help your child reach his or her full potential, you will come into contact with professional people as well as other children with disabilities and their parents. Sharing experiences and wisdom, and being there for each other during the tough times, can create lifelong friends, who will walk through this journey with you and understand you like no one else.
It may take time and personal growth, but eventually you will come to see the value of this special child of yours, and understand how he or she makes you a better person. What have you learned from your special child? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.