Sometimes hope comes in unexpected packages.
I was thinking about this just the other day as I sat and watched my 12-yr old daughter with Down Syndrome play on her Challenger’s baseball team. The families have become pretty close over the years, and we always enjoy seeing the kids again in the spring and commenting on how much they have grown since last season.
My daughter has played on this team for several years, so some of the siblings of these special kids are now getting ready to go off to college. As I sat and talked with their parents, I began to feel a sense of relief in my soul.
They were off to become physical therapists, educators and screenwriters, and were all influenced by their siblings’ disabilities when making their choice of study. When I sat and talked with their parents, they all mentioned this to me. There was this sense of quiet pride in their voices. Without a doubt, there are strong connections within these families.
As a parent of a child with a disability, you know the wear and tear it takes on you. Sometimes it feels like we are getting nowhere and things will never change. Guess what? They’ve already changed and will probably do so by leaps and bounds because of our very own typical children and their connection to our families and the community.
A New Generation
I’m pretty sure our kids represent the first generation of siblings to have grown up in a home where individuals with disabilities were raised in the home and not in an institution. We all know the horrid story from years ago – institutions and back rooms of homes. Brothers and sisters with disabilities were swiftly moved out of the home and relationships never materialized between siblings.
Thankfully, our kids don’t know this world and it didn’t influence the way they feel and respond to people with disabilities. The disability world and all of its intricacies is normal for them. They simply don’t have the baggage the rest of us have and their attitudes and actions reflect this.
Give Yourself Some Credit
So before we get too down about everything, we need to pat ourselves on the back a little. We were part of a master plan and our adult typical children will play a key role in the future of the disability world.
Our parent’s generation made the first move by resisting the doctor’s advice to institutionalize their children. This was quite an accomplishment given it was uncustomary at the time to go against a doctor’s orders.
By the time I was in elementary school, IDEA had become law and kids with special needs were not only out of institutions, but out of the back room of homes and into the classroom. The transition was hard for families and schools but the faithful moved forward. There were still many obstacles for these children in order to be included in their communities and schools, but progress was being made.
Today, our special kiddos go to restaurants for dinner, swimming pools, dance classes and piano recitals. More and more, they are part of mainstream society and schools are fine tuning their curriculums to better serve kids with disabilities and a host of other special learning styles. Although we still hear stories of discrimination in schools and by society, we are making great strides in equality for our loved ones.
A Better World
As our special kids become more and more a part of society, they have also become part of the fabric of our communities. The stares are still there, but they continue to diminish. Perhaps best of all, most young people have never heard of an institution and would never understand why we would do it in the first place. An attitude of “who cares” has begun to permeate our schools and society.
And that’s where our typical children are today. They’ve grown up in a different world so they see it in a way we will never fully realize. They are our future and they are well prepared.
As I watch my oldest daughter prepare for college and other siblings of kids with disabilities do the same, I see the promise of a great future for the disability community.
And I cannot help but let out a great sigh of relief – and maybe relax just a little.
Valerie Strohl is the proud parent of a 12 year-old with Down Syndrome. She has been the Chairperson of the Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddler, First Steps, for three Indiana Governors from 2001-2006. Valerie led one of the largest grass-root efforts in the history of Indiana for families of loved ones with disabilities. Read more from her blog and on Twitter