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The Lesson I Learned Watching My Son With Cerebral Palsy Change His Clothes


My son has been diagnosed with global developmental delay and cerebral palsy, among other things. He has faced more obstacles in his three short years than anyone I know. Nevertheless, every day I see him continue to smile, laugh and find joy.

We have been working with occupational therapy for months to try and help him figure out how to dress himself and work on his self-help skills. Dressing and undressing yourself is something I used to take for granted. Many of us probably don’t realize the motor skills involved in moving your elbow in and back while pushing your shoulder in just the right position to pull your arm down. We may not realize the thumb coordination it takes to grasp the interior elastic of a sock and hold it open while using depth perception to gauge where your toes are meant to land in the sock, or the core stability you need to hold your body up while working your arms, your thumbs and your eyes to pull the sock back without falling over. When you are working through each moment and breaking it down muscle group by muscle group, it’s then we can realize how such a seemingly minuscule task can be so major.

The other night as we were getting ready for bed, not hurried or rushed, I noticed my son’s full interest was in getting undressed. I had this gut feeling this would be the time he could actually do it. I pulled out my camera with expectant excitement and began to watch his staunch effort at getting his shirt off. To give you an idea, the video is 15 minutes long. He started with his shirt. Three minutes and 46 seconds into the video, he gets his first sleeve out. At four minutes and 15 seconds, I try to help him with the other arm. “No, Mommy. Jackie do it.” I step back. At six minutes and 29 seconds, he gets the other sleeve off. Every step of the way, he looks back to me with a grin of delight. At seven minutes and 12 seconds he gets the shirt completely off. He squeals with excitement, throws his arms in the air and looks at me with such pride.

In this moment, I had an epiphany. Here is this toddler, supposedly the most impatient and easily frustrated type of human, who took over seven minutes to remove his shirt. Not once did he stop trying to get the shirt off. Not once did he ask for or accept help. Not once did he give up. He accepted the challenge thrown at him and embraced every success, regardless of how “small” it may have been, to get to the final goal. And ultimately, he was so proud of himself he even did a dance. This kid managed to capture every emotion in my body in this moment: pride, joy, bittersweetness, excitement and utter awe.

I’ve learned so much from my toddler’s patience and tenacity to get through these seemingly simple yet grueling tasks for himself without wavering or giving up — and his ability to take pride and joy in each step of the way. I don’t think I have ever been so proud of him.

Image via Thinkstock.

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