When raising special children, you receive all kinds of advice — some of it even solicited. One of the best pieces of advice we heard came just recently while we were in Dallas speaking for Oakhill Academy. Julie Chapman, the school’s Director of Admissions, told us, “Special needs parents always seem to look ahead to see where their kids are going. What they really need to do is look back and see how far their children have come.”
Such simple advice, but so true. When our children were younger, we worried if they would graduate high school, go to college, get married, have children, live independently. Though some of these questions remain unanswered at their ages of 19 and 17, they both have managed to surprise us at every turn.
Patty, for example, worried if her daughter Jennifer would be able to drive some day. Would Jenn get in the car when she was upset and drive away? She never did. And when it came time go to college, Patty worried that the pressure and social challenges would be too much for Jenn. Would Jennifer, who was living successfully at home without medication, turn to drugs or alcohol in college? She didn’t. Instead she turned to fitness and exercise. Would Jenn be homesick? She wasn’t. In fact, she told her mother, “Mom, I think my time in the hospital prepared me from being away from home,” she told Patty.
Jennifer loved the idea of college and yearned to attend one school, University of Massachusetts or UMass, the school her older sister, Jules, attends. Having frequently visited her sister and friends who study there, Jenn knew the school well. “It’s my happy place,” she’d tell anyone who asked why she wanted to go to school there.
Her senior year in high school, Jenn excitedly applied to Umass, only to be placed on the waiting list due to a large applicant pool and her sub-par SAT scores (though her grades were always strong; standardized tests brought out her anxiety). Over the summer, she hoped and prayed a spot would open. It didn’t. Saddened, but not ready to give up, Jenn attended and moved into a smaller college with the plan to reapply to Umass after a semester. At the smaller school, Jenn’s grades were excellent and she made friends. Yet, she knew it wasn’t where she was supposed to be. Her heart was at Umass. So in the Fall, she applied again, telling her parents and friends, “I’m not gonna give up.”
Sadly, she was rejected once again.
At the end of the semester, she decided to move back home and take courses at a nearby college. Once again, she applied to Umass for Fall admission. She even wrote on the envelope, “Third time’s a charm.”
Naturally, Patty was worried. “Gene, if she doesn’t get in this time; she’ll be crushed.” Jennifer, however, wouldn’t give up. “I know I’m going to get in.” When late March rolled around, Jenn knew she would find out any day and would often run to the mailbox, only to find the usual mail of credit card solicitations and bills.
Last week, while Jenn was out Patty’s son came in with the mail and handed Patty a big envelope. “Mom! Jenn got something from Umass!” Upon seeing the envelope, Patty was nervous. Knowing that Jennifer might not take the news of a rejection well, Patty made an executive decision, along with both her son and her daughter Jules, who was home for the Easter holiday. “We have to open it!” Patty’s son agreed, “Mom, let me do it! I’m good at being sneaky.” When they saw what was inside, they were all ecstatic.
“SHE GOT IN!” screamed Jules with tears in her eyes.
“SHE’S MOVING OUT AGAIN!” shouted Patty’s son Mikey.
Patty was ecstatic and decided to hatch a plan to share the news with Jenn who was visiting with some friends nearby. The video below shows their successful plan and Jenn’s priceless reaction — proof of just how far this amazing young woman has come.