My mother used to say that “Everyone has something that they are better at than anyone else in the whole wide world.” I don’t remember now exactly what situations would prompt her to burst forth with such words of encouragement. I’m sure that sometimes she was speaking to me when I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt that I wasn’t good enough at something that I had tried to do, or maybe was afraid to attempt. At other times, I’m sure that she was talking about my brother, Richard, who was thought to be “slow.” Richard, however, had an uncanny gift for electronics and figuring out how things worked. He would take things apart and put them together in creative ways. Once he rigged the lamp switch next to my bed to automatically turn on a CB radio when the light was turned on. That was interesting!
While my mother may have overstated the case, there was something to the point that she was trying to make. Each of us have been given a unique set of gifts and challenges. An important key to being successful in life, however we define “success”, is to figure out how to work around our challenges, and to also find our gifts.
For many children who have disabilities, the challenges become the constant focus of parents, other family members, teachers, clinicians, etc. Some kids are in school all day and then go to therapy and tutoring in the evening. Parents may coach, practice, review, and pre-teach on weekends and during the summer months. While it is important to help your child improve their functioning in areas of need, it is even more important that their disability does not define who they are. That child who struggles with reading could be a great dancer, athlete, artist, designer, cook, builder, actor, scientist, gardener, musician, equestrian, singer, craft-person, animal whisperer….. You get the idea.
Allow your child to have as wide a variety of experiences as possible,whether it’s as a spectator or participant. Follow up when your child shows signs of interest. Look for opportunities for them to learn more about an area of interest, take lessons to develop their skills, or participate in some way. Let your child dabble in several different areas. Their first interest may not become their true passion. You don’t want to miss the activity that reveals your child’s gift or lifts their spirit because you got stuck on the first thing that they expressed some interest in. Classes offered through your local Park and Recreation Department or the Y can be a relatively inexpensive way to sample a variety of offerings without investing a lot of money or making a long-term commitment. Other places offer introductory sessions and classes from time to time. Ask around and keep your eyes open for those and other opportunities.
Giving your child the chance to participate in an activity that he/she loves, or is good at, will enhance their self-esteem, sense of competence, and provide an important contrast to the challenges associated with the disability. The gift is there; your job is to help your child find it!