WANTED: Hope in Action Throughout the Special Needs Community

Photo from WATER by Tara

Parents of a child who has special needs will almost surely hear at one time or another, “Now you know your child will never [fill in blank.]”  These gloom and doom forecasts are meant to be helpful, I know.  They are meant to prepare us for REALITY.  I used to get upset not knowing how much truth was in their words.  Now I know it doesn’t matter.  What that person (teacher, tutor, doctor, etc.) is really saying is, “I don’t know how to help your child learn to [repeat fill-in].”  They are protecting themselves from a feeling of failure.

As a society, we can not afford to place limits on what our children will be able to accomplish.  Here are four essential characteristics that inspirational teachers, therapists, and caregivers possess:

  1.  Hope
  2. Awareness/Acceptance
  3. Commitment
  4. Open, Grateful Attitude

Hope
Hoping the best for our children may not seem enough, but we can’t predict what will happen if we act on that hope.  By acting on hope, we can learn.  Often, as a result, we even change reality!!!  Science is constantly proving this phenomenon, such as the research findings showing that “Contrary to earlier beliefs, individuals with autism can acquire spoken language after age 5.” (Autism Speaks)  What has happened to create this change?  People choosing to act on hope.  The study notes that “in virtually all cases [of language development after age 5], significant time and effort put into treatment was necessary for speech to develop.” They did not resign to the belief that after age 5 it is too late, and instead chose to believe there is no age limit to learning and growing. Then they put that hopeful belief into action.

Awareness/Acceptance
“You can believe that water will keep you from dying of thirst, but unless you actually drink the water (put your belief into action), you will die of thirst.”  - Rev. Creflo Dollar

Hoping for the best does not mean we do not accept a child “as is” full-heartedly.  Acceptance does not mean we have to face facts and do nothing.  That’s giving up. We can appreciate everything about an individual child while still seeking and acting on ways to support him/her to take those next steps we’d like to see.

Both in the professional world of special education as well as throughout my intense searching for volunteers to work with my child in his home-based Son-Rise® program, I have found people willing to act on hope very valuable and rare finds indeed!  It is far easier to find people who can “talk the talk”, but those willing to “walk the walk” are much more elusive. Not that I want to be hard on anyone, I just feel that awareness and acceptance are the first steps to changing things for the better.  Watching various individuals spend one-on-one time with my son through a one-way mirror (which they knew was there) was very enlightening as to an individual’s comfort level.  This is a crucial piece, because only by taking responsibility for one’s own feelings about a person with special needs can the teaching and learning begin for both parties.

Commitment
“We might just as honestly describe a person’s ‘learning disability’ as our own ‘teaching disability’.” – Herbert Lovett

In order to get comfortable with my son, you have to be willing to reflect on why you are not and decide to change. Often there are fears in the way.  Other times there are expectations that are being placed on him that he couldn’t care less about, which leads to frustration and disappointment in him.  This is a recipe for disaster, believe me. A child diagnosed on the severe end of the autism spectrum is not trying to be annoying. She/he cannot be “guilted” into being more “normal”. The child is doing the best he can, just like the person trying to work with him/her is, so who’s going to change first in the hope of moving forward?  Who knew that working with those who have special needs is a commitment to learning and growing just as much as teaching?!?

Open, Grateful Attitude
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” –Vaclav Havel

No matter how challenging our circumstances, we can always find things to be grateful for and celebrate. Through the grace of God we can rise to the challenge. By acting from a hopeful, open attitude we can create a caring, respectful reality for everyone (Wertz, 2010).  I believe we are all gifts in each others lives. Every child brings gifts to this world.  Let’s receive those gifts by acting on hope.

 Don’t listen to “your child will never ____”

Believe, encourage, and learn together!

 References

“Later Language Acquisition in Nonverbal Individuals with Autism.” Autism Speaks. <http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/later-language-acquisition>.

Wertz, Steven R. and Wertz, Kaitryn S. (2010) “Attitudinal Training: The Power of Thoughts and Feelings in Reaching Children with Autism.” BooksbyTara.com, <http://www.booksbytara.com/docs/AttitudinalTraining.pdf>.

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Tara McClintick About Tara McClintick

Tara McClintick is an Early Childhood Special Education teacher turned Son-Rise® mom. She is the mother of two amazing boys, the youngest one considered on the severe end of the autism spectrum. She creates fun, visually based concept books designed to promote awareness, thinking, interaction and language development that can be found at BooksbyTara.com.