It Takes a Village to Raise a Child With a Disability


They say it takes a village to raise a child. Yesterday, my son and I were surrounded by ours even though my mother and husband were working, and therefore not with us.

We traveled two hours or so west with my father and sister to attend our annual family Memorial Day picnic. For the past 20 years or so, we have made this trek almost every year. We visit with aunts, uncles, grandparents and an assortment of cousins and extended family. It is a wonderful time to really connect and catch up; unlike any exchange via social media or email.

Having received my son’s diagnosis last Monday, I shared the results with three wonderful women in my life. My grandmother, who raised five happy, successful children, while holding the position of Children’s Librarian at her children’s elementary school. My aunt, a teacher and an incredibly knowledgeable woman who raised three amazing young adults in their 20’s.  My other aunt, who is an incredibly talented photographer, artist and graphic designer; she’s kind, gentle and mindful and I’ve always shared a special connection with her. All three have shared many, many useful tidbits of information with me over the years, which I have applied to our lives.

I was a bit apprehensive about attending the picnic. My son is impulsive; especially when overwhelmed with too many people, new experiences or too much sensory input. There was a pool, many acres of woods and a river in those woods.

 

When we go to places like this, my husband and I work in a tag-team of sorts; we never take our eyes off him. Our son has run into traffic, twice. Fortunately, we caught him before he stepped in front of a moving vehicle.

My largest fear is he will get overwhelmed and sneak out — out of a yard, home, into a road — and these fears were confirmed with the developmental pediatrician and psychologist. We were told it is very common with the impulsiveness that goes along with ADHD. And, I can certainly relate; to this day when I get overwhelmed, I have to physically remove myself from the situation to process and regroup. So, I do understand why he takes off. However, it is scary because he does not understand yet how unsafe running off can be.

Well, it turns out my fear of attending the picnic with my son was unnecessary. Since I had reached out to the three women, they also helped keep an eye on him. In fact, as the day progressed, I realized half of the people at the picnic were also keeping an eye out for him. He’s quick! Twice he got away — I paused to grab a drink and could not find him. My uncle waved, he saw my panic, and found him digging in the garden.

I was so overwhelmed with the love from all of my family members. Everyone pulled together to help me when I thought I was most alone. Most amazing, not once was my son scolded or forced to sit when he needed to move. I was not alone. They understood. I did not have to explain to anyone. This was surprising and filled my heart. My son experienced his first picnic, free to explore as a 4-year-old boy should.

One of my cousins with two little ones came to talk with me. I started my usual defensive speech about how I’m not a helicopter mom, he’s impulsive due to ADHD and a communication disorder. She said, “You know I’m an elementary school psychologist, right? I see these diagnoses often, and they are definitely manageable.” We talked for quite some time as we watched our children play; the same way we did as children. Full circle.

It meant the world to me to see my son treated with love and acceptance, to have my anxieties wiped off my consciousness, to feel we were both accepted with all our conditions… my heart is more full than I thought possible. My son had a full day of fun, with no meltdowns or comments that could potentially affect his self-esteem. This is what life is about. I am so very thankful to be a part of this “village.”

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