By Zareinu Principal Dr. Mitch Parker
I have had the opportunity over the years to work in a variety of medical/educational settings: in the outpatient psychiatry clinic of a children’s hospital, in two very different private schools for children for developmental disabilities and in a Jewish day school. In each of these institutions, I have had many opportunities to converse with and interact with parents of children with challenges, especially in the context of their desires to provide the best learning environment for their children.
As would be expected, all parents want the best opportunities for their children and actively advocate that they receive the best services and the most advantages. Where parents differ is in the standards they set for their children’s success. When I worked in the day school, parents regularly came to my office demanding that their sons or daughters be placed in the advanced math class, they wondered why their boy or girl had not been nominated for the gifted and talented program. They were frustrated that their offspring were not in the most accelerated programs. In the hospital and clinic, parents of high school students often asked for psychoeducational evaluations so their children would receive the coveted diagnoses of “Learning Disabled” or “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” which would allow them extra test taking time for college entrance examinations. Being average or even above average was simply out the question. Sometimes children became debilitated by anxieties generated by the unrealistic expectations of their parents.
The parents of children with developmental disabilities also wanted the best for their sons and daughters. They advocated for the most accomplished therapists and the maximum number of treatment hours. They actively and with great determination sought out new (sometimes unproven) intervention techniques to improve skills of their boys and firsts. However, unlike parents of typical children, success for these parents was defined differently. They were thrilled when their son would smile at them for the first time. Their three year old daughter’s first steps became a peak event. The five year old boy who looked at his mother and exclaimed “mama” spontaneously was the most important event the life of the family that year. Every small gain, every little improvement was a source of celebrations for the child’s parents and for the staff of teachers and therapists working with her.
Sometimes people commend me, the staff I work with or the parents of children with challenges for our compassion and commitment. They claim that they could never work with children with significant disabilities. We must be “special people”. In truth, there is nothing special about us. Instead, ours is a difference in perspective.
We accept our children unconditionally regardless of their levels of achievement. We revel in every small gain and achievement. We learn not to take life skills for granted and are appreciative of every success and every effort.
Take a moment to reflect. How do you measure success? What life skills do you take for granted? What expectations do you hold for others? Where are you standards set? It is all a matter of perspective.