To My Daughter When She Wishes She Was 'Just Like Everyone Else'

My dear daughter,

To the best of our knowledge, the reason you have cerebral palsy is from not getting enough oxygen to your brain when you were born because you just weren’t ready to come out yet. Your tummy mom got very sick, and because of that her body couldn’t keep you in her tummy any longer. You had a stroke shortly after you were born. That’s why the muscles in your right arm are so tight, and it’s smaller than the left.

Therapy has been a part of your life from the time we adopted you. Unable to walk, and told by doctors that you never would, you were determined to prove them wrong. Twenty-five pounds of steel will did what the professionals said you would never do. You walked.

I remember the first time you took independent steps. You were wearing your new AFOs (leg braces) and your little purple shoes. You tried over and over to take more and more steps before you fell. You didn’t even know how to catch yourself because at 5 years old, you had never developed a fall reflex. We had to do more therapy just to teach you how not to fall over like a dead tree. You’ve had busted lips, bloody elbows, and staples in your head, but you never, ever gave up. You walked.

The school system and doctors both told me that you were just not a smart kid. The quote I remember the most from a doctor was right after we came home from Ukraine with you, when a developmental pediatrician told me, “She’s never going to be at the top of the IQ scale.” You glared at him; I glared at him; we never went back.

I sat in one very memorable IEP meeting for you and listened in complete shock and horror as every person in that room agreed to label you intellectually disabled. I wanted to ask them how they could even think that after spending an entire year with you? This time I was the one who didn’t accept what the professionals said you wouldn’t do. I disagreed with them and requested more evaluations.

We discovered you have a visual impairment, a math disorder, severe dyslexia, PTSD and debilitating anxiety, along with the classic traumatic brain injury symptoms from a stroke. But IQ tests showed that you are not intellectually disabled; your verbal IQ was literally one point from the gifted range. You just learn differently. The quote I remember the most from the 6 hours of neuropsychological evaluations was “How could they think she’s intellectually disabled? Did they even talk to her?”

When you told me you wished you could run and climb trees, it made me sad because I wished you could too. You want to learn to swim and ride a bike like your brothers, but it’s so hard for you. I wish I could find a way to make things easier for you. The surgery you had helped so much, but I can never take away your cerebral palsy, though I wish I could.

I have never been so proud of someone as when you learned how to run. What other kids take for granted, you worked on for over a year. You said you wanted to learn how to run and you did. You are an amazing girl for setting such a hard goal and reaching it!

So, when you looked at me and said you wished you could just be like all the other kids, what I really want you to know is that I wish I could be more like you.

You with your feisty spirit and iron will sometimes drive me crazy. When you do not want to do something, I have never been able to make you do it without a fight. Your sassy attitude frustrates me sometimes, and other times I wonder how after all you have been through, you still dare to be sassy! It’s the fighter in you that makes you special.

You are not “just like the other kids.” You have your struggles, but you have something deep inside of you the “other kids” don’t have. You have never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, and that, sweetheart, is so much better than being like everyone else. Your life has no limits because you don’t believe in them.

Go change the world.

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