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Inquisitive Soul, Remarkable Memory: Embracing Special Gifts
This week I would like to celebrate the inquisitive spirit and remarkable memory of a woman with special needs. I came to know her as an adult, so I never had the privilege to be her teacher. How would you like to have someone tell you where you left your keys, your cell phone, or what you needed to get at the store? This woman has all those gifts and is such a joy to meet. She loves dogs, having a special, calming effect on them, and has social graces that are better than most neurotypical people. She loves meeting people. I have seen her at various social functions and can attest to her compliments and hugs, having been the recipient of both. She works at my favorite cafe, the Grande Cafe and Roastery here in Medina, and when she is working, she will stop and give me a big hug. She is always radiating positivity and displays a talent for holding an enriching conversation.
Q: What is one thing you wish teachers know about your child that is not on the IEP?
A: She is very sociable. In fact, her social skills far exceed her intellectual skills. She enjoys nearly everyone she meets and once she gets to know you, will often greet you with a hug and a smile, saying, You look so beautiful (or handsome) today.”
Q: Scores on tests do not define the child. What is something your child is really good at that is not reflected on tests?
A: She has a good memory and is curious. If we lose our keys, or can’t find something around the house, she is usually the one to find it. Or when we need a reminder to pick up something up at the store, she is the one to remind us. And she frequently asks about the meaning of a word, a phrase, or a story that she hears. She also loves people and especially enjoys gatherings with family, seeing friends at church, and joining activities at Medina Creative Housing.
Q: How important is homework for your child? Is it just a burden, or is it a helpful learning tool?
A: My daughter didn’t get much homework when she was in school. But when she did, it was usually just a burden for her after a long day at school, and for us due to busy schedules and two other children in the home. But on a positive note, homework did provide an opportunity for us to gain a better understanding of what she was doing in school so that we could reinforce her learning at home. We moved a couple of times when she was attending school and she had teachers that were not very good and others that were very good. So being involved with her learning provided more positive outcomes in both cases.
Q: How old was your child when you first knew he/she had special needs?
A: We knew she had developmental delays in her first year, she was diagnosed at age 3.
Q: What is one piece of advice you have for someone with a newly diagnosed child?
A: Don’t focus on ‘what could have been if only he/she wasn’t disabled,’ instead focus on ‘what can be’ with his/her unique strengths and qualities. When I first began to realize that our daughter wasn’t meeting developmental milestones and that she may have a disability, I was afraid and felt lost. I didn’t know how we would ever be able to parent a disabled child. After she was diagnosed, I tended to focus on all the things she would never be able to do. I thought she would never live independently, hold a job, go to college, get married, have children, etc. But as she grew, she became the most loving, innocent, joyful, and happy child. I soon discovered that we had been blessed by this special child. She is a joy to have in our family. I realized that her innocent, joyous personality are characteristics that would be cherished by most adults. Now, she does live independently, holds a job, and enjoys life more than most people I know.
Q: What is one meal that everyone in your family likes to eat?
A: Tuna noodle casserole is typically a favorite for most of us.
Q: What advice do you have for interacting with children with special needs?
A: Don’t talk down to them, but interact with them at a level they understand. It is sometimes a delicate balance because my daughter doesn’t have as high a level of intellectual understanding as other adults her age might have. By the same token, she is an adult and enjoys interacting with other adults in our family, at church, in the community, and at her job. Include them (maybe with a hug), and treat them with the respect that you would expect for yourself.
Q: What activities do you recommend to other parents to foster self-care?
A: Take time to exercise and do activities that you enjoy. Also, joining a support group is a positive way to meet others and learn about opportunities that are available for you, your child, and your family.
Q: Are there any support groups that you recommend for parents or children?
A: After moving to Ohio, we immediately became involved with the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities which provided a lot of information, services, and resources for us. We also joined an organization that was specifically targeted to my daughter’s diagnosis where we were able to get more specific information about her disability, attend conferences, meet other parents, and talk to experts. Both were invaluable resources.
Q: What are your favorite family activities?
A: Walking in the park with the dog, doing church activities, getting together with family, investigating new places to go in our community.