When I sat down to write my September article for the Special Needs issue of Idaho Family Magazine, I felt instantly overwhelmed. How on earth am I supposed to write an article encompassing even a FRAGMENT of the impact that these special kids and these special people make on all of the lives lucky enough to come in contact with them? I weighed my options, thought of so many angles I could take, and, ultimately, decided that these kiddos should have the chance to share some of their special lessons with the world through my words. I want to take some time this month to share with you some of the most valuable lessons and perspectives I’ve gained by being lucky enough to work in a field where I am blessed with the presence of my special friends every single day. Here goes.
Is it weird or is it different?-I find myself saying this almost every single day. Not just with my patients; but with my friends, family members, and even sometimes to complete strangers. Working in this profession has allowed me the wonderful ability to see differences as beautiful, even if they initially seem strange or weird. I always try to remind my patients and their families that we were all born exactly as we were intended to be. We are all perfectly imperfect and we all have strengths and weaknesses to help make us unique. When something feels “weird,” it’s usually just because it’s different from how we are used to it being. And choosing to reframe our mindset to talk about differences rather than turn away from them allows us the opportunity to meet and become friends will all kinds of people. It also helps us take a step closer and see that, deep down, all of our hearts beat the same.
Perspective is everything-Rather than count how many reps we have left, we focus on how many we have already accomplished. Instead of stating our failures, we do our best to focus on all of our many successes. I have learned that if we focus on what we are lacking, it often feels like we have even less than we do. But when we stop to focus on all of the reasons we have to be thankful, we almost always realize that we have more than enough exactly as we are.
It takes a village-These kiddos have helped me learn that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to admit that I can’t do something alone. There is strength in numbers, and we are almost always more capable together than we would ever be if we were completely on our own. Ask for help. Offer help. We are all in this together.
Sometimes we have to try 100 times before it sticks-I often tell my families in feeding therapy that sometimes we have to present something 100 times on a child’s plate before they will even TOUCH it. How often do we give up on something before we’ve truly given our all? How different life would be if we realized that sometimes we have to try 100 times before we will even get close to getting it right. But, if we keep trying, we will always, always get it right eventually.
Everyone can teach us something if we will let them-I have learned more from my patients and families than I could ever dream of teaching them. I have learned that if we humble ourselves and allow our pride to step aside, we can learn something from every single person we encounter. Sometimes people teach us lessons directly and, other times, people teach us lessons in patience, forgiveness, understanding, and perspective through adversity and difficult situations. These kids come to me with an open mind every single day, and that open mind is what allows them to make every ounce of the progress they make.
Giving up is not an option-I’ve been beat in planking competitions by a child with cerebral palsy, I have been schooled in The Game of Life, Monopoly, and Go Fish more times than I can count by children with genetic, mitochondrial, and chromosomal abnormalities that some said would never walk, never talk, or never live a ‘normal’ life. And all I have to say is not only am I thankful those people were so incredibly wrong, but, more than that, I have to make note that those people were only wrong because none of those children ever gave up on themselves.
There’s always a reason to be thankful-I remember working in a school district in Arizona during my clinical rotations and I was in a session with a second grader who was fully blind. He was asking me questions about what I looked like, what the activity we were working on looked like, and asking me to describe in intricate detail the sensory bin that I wanted him to put his hands into. Out of nowhere, I got really emotional thinking about how difficult it would be to not be able to see anything ever again. I found myself feeling so sad and so sorry for him, and he could tell I was holding back tears. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “I just feel sad that you can’t see the things I’m describing to you.” I replied back. “Oh, it’s okay, don’t feel bad,” he began, “some dogs are also blind AND they don’t have thumbs. I can still play video games even though I can’t see the screen.” I couldn’t help but laugh and cry at the exact same time as this sweet kiddo lent me his perspective in its most pure and innocent form. For every single thing we are without, we have a hundred more reasons to be thankful.
Normal is boring-I often hear the phrase “I just want my kid to be normal.” But normal is such a relative term. What does it even mean? I know I sure don’t feel ‘normal’ most days. If we were all the same, life would be so boring. And most of my favorite moments at work come from the deep belly laughter than ensues from all sources outside of normalcy. These beautiful children have helped reframe my perspective to celebrate and rejoice in our differences. You’ll never catch us chasing “normal.”
Too much swinging in circles will make everyone sick eventually-that one is pretty self-explanatory ☺
Tiny hands often leave the biggest marks on our hearts-Holy Cow. I’m admittedly sitting at my laptop with tears streaming down my face, so incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the opportunities life has handed me to get to know my special friends. I truly can’t imagine life without them. Every tiny finger that reached for my hand inevitably ended up touching my heart. They have shown me strength unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. They have given me kindness that I can’t comprehend. They have shown empathy that no other human I’ve encountered could possess. And they’ve taught me resilience, perseverance, and grace that has changed me forever.