In life, there are two kinds of people: optimists and pessimists. For a time, we could have been considered in the latter category. We were “glass-is-half-empty-kinda gals.” (Unless the glasses were filled with wine or beer. In that case, we were “glass-is-completely-empty-kinda gals.)
We really couldn’t help it; we were raised by two loving, but highly pessimistic parents. Our father, a “Doubting Tony,” was particularly pessimistic:
“Patty, you probably won’t be Mrs. Bobby Sherman.”
“Gina, you’re a good baseball player; but I don’t think you’ll make the Red Sox roster.”
Looking back, we see that our Dad’s pessimism was a protective measure; he figured if he prepared us for the worst we wouldn’t be disappointed if things didn’t work out.
One would think this pessimistic paternal practice would have prepared us for the negativity that surrounds us as special needs parents today. But it simply didn’t. We were still shocked by the negativity that came from the very people we relied on to help us and our children – pediatricians, teachers, therapists, etc. It seemed like the moment our children were diagnosed, we were bombarded with “I THINK THEY CAN’TS!”
Many parents become so programmed to the negativity that they begin to lower their own expectations and focus not on the things their children can do, but the things they can’t do.
Gina certainly fell into this when Katie was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. She met with clinicians and teachers who constantly told her what Katie couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be able to do. “Mrs. Gallagher, she can’t hold a pencil properly, cut with scissors, and she may never crabwalk.”
It didn’t take Gina long to be sipping their negative Kool Aid. At age seven, when Katie was scheduled to make her First Communion, Gina prepared for the worst. “Father forgive me for my child is about to sin by spitting out and gagging on the Eucharist wafer.”
She was so convinced that Katie wouldn’t be able to take the Eucharist that she missed the joy of Katie actually experiencing this spiritual passage (Writer’s Note: There was no gagging or spitting, though Katie did chew it like it was a wad of Bubble Yum.)
As Katie got older, the “couldn’t list” got even longer – and scarier. Experts said she wouldn’t be able to hold a job, go to college, or ever live independently. Gina even heard negativity from an advocate she hired to help fight for services for Katie. Gina nearly fell over when the advocate announced in a Team meeting, “Let’s face it; Katie will probably never go to college; she won’t pass Geometry.” Gina was stunned and furious. “Look, I don’t need to pay you $150 an hour to be negative. That’s what the rest of the team does for free.”
Now that she’s older and wiser, Gina, a newfound optimist, knows better than to doubt Katie. A 17, Katie has accomplished ALL the things they said she’d never do. She has a part-time job at a grocery store, passed Geometry, and will graduate in June. Oh and by the way, stupid advocate lady, she passed Geometry and is going to live away at a four-year college in the fall. Even more exciting, Katie can crabwalk (see photo).
No one is more aware of the pessimism of others more than Katie herself. During her college interview, the admissions counselor asked her, “What’s one thing you’d like us to know about you to help us with our decision?” Katie responded by saying, “Well, my whole life people have doubted me and I’ve always surprised them by what I can do. If I want something, there is no stopping me. I want to go to college here!” (She shoots! She scores!)
On our Facebook page, we recently asked parents to share what they were told their children would never do and are now doing.
“They said he she wouldn’t eat without a feeding tube. She eats with her mouth.”
“We were told my son would pretty much be a bump on a log and not do anything. He is now the most active two-year old with the best personality ever.”
“They said he would never hear; he can.”
“They said our son would never THRIVE!. He is thriving.
“They said our son couldn’t handle mainstream kindergarten. It’s tough; but he’s handling it.”
“Docs said he would not walk and may be intellectually disabled. Now he runs and rides a bicycle without training wheels!! OK, with a crazy sense of balance, but he’s doing it!”
“They said he would never say ‘I love you,’ never hug me, never have friends, and never be able to function on his own.” Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! And wrong!
“They said he wouldn’t live.”
“They said she wasn’t going to survive the brain injury. She not only survived, but also defies the odds everyday. I was told to settle and I refused to settle.”
“They said, he’d never read or write. He can do both.”
“They said she wouldn’t live past 12. She’ll be 17 in May!”
For more of these inspiring stories, visit our Facebook page. Or better yet, leave a comment to tell us what your special child has accomplished despite what the experts said.