Our words of appreciation are life-giving water to the seeds of brilliance in our children.
The only negative aspect on this journey with my differently-abled children has been the leaning towards pessimism by the majority of people we meet. In an attempt to show understanding, or solidarity, people often say to me (in front of my children) – ‘It must be very difficult for you,’ or (with a sad shake of the head) ‘it’s such a shame.’ Worst of all, ‘You’re a saint, I couldn’t do it.’
As people who know me well can testify, I am no saint. And anyone could ‘do it.’ In my situation, they would have little choice. More than that, anyone in my shoes would eventually begin to enjoy and to celebrate each small victory, each small achievement. They would grow in areas that in other circumstances it would be very difficult to make advancement in; empathy, understanding, the realisation of their deepest, truest values.
Do people imagine, for one moment, that the miserable sentiments they offer in lieu of kindness have no effect on my children’s self esteem, or on our family’s collective mood?
Meetings about my children’s development are often built around a list of problems. Annual medical reviews begin with the question ‘So, tell me what he/she can’t do?’ Applications for extra support require parents to spend many hours painting a ‘worst case scenario’ picture of the hellish lives that their children have dragged them into. Unless we guard ourselves against it, this negativity can drip into our psyches like Chinese water torture, poisoning the atmosphere within the bubble of our family life.
For even the most academically brilliant, talented, creative, energetic individual, an intense beam of focus and constant reminders about what that person struggles with will, eventually, level their self-esteem.
A meeting with a group of inspirational mums brought this home to me yesterday; a young person’s self-esteem is his most valuable asset. Whatever we focus on grows in significance – when all of the world’s focus is on a DISability, how is self-esteem to grow in strength and resilience? My call is for an about-turn in the way that we see people who are outside the ‘normal range’ in function, intelligence, social know-how, or any other area. Let’s focus on the brilliance of each individual, and celebrate that. From learning to manage personal cares, to discovering a clean and cheap power source that may save our planet; each achievement should be recognised and celebrated, so that young people become familiar with that wonderfully satisfying feeling -‘I did it, and I’m proud.’