How a Teacher's Message About My Son With a Disability Shifted My Perspective

Sometimes we all need a little “more.” It looks different for each of us: more attention or more alone time, more cuddles or more space, more structure or more flexibility. Maybe it’s a developmental stage, maybe it’s circumstance, mood or personality. Whatever it is, we notice, and those around us notice these moments of need.

In our family, my son has needed more of me lately. At home, he needs to know I’m in close physical proximity. He needs to know timelines. He needs to be reassured that I’m there. Sometimes he needs to be reassured many times. And sometimes the reassurance isn’t enough. We’ve all been there at different times. When someone you love needs so much of you, either physically or emotionally, or both, it is depleting.

So the other night when I received a message from one of my son’s teachers right in the middle of the pre-bedtime sibling showdown, it stopped me in my tracks.

“I’ve been meaning to email you to tell you all the sweet little moments I’ve had with your little guy this week. Like when he focused for almost an hour making wire sculptures with me and being responsible for using the wire cutters and helping others cut their wire. Or how he’s been trying and trying every day to get to grab onto those yellow bars in the big yard and he hasn’t given up. Or how he sat in our classroom last Friday and worked for so long on the hardest melty bead we have. Or how darn cute he was bringing his ukelele to Choir last week. Or how he was determined to climb the tree today and problem solved until he got it.”

I re-read the email at least three times. And each read continued to fill me up.

My son has cerebral palsy and fine motor tasks can be particularly challenging. He has trouble with attention. Social situations with peers can be tough. He gets overstimulated with sounds and impulsive when he has the power to control the sounds (like a musical instrument). His body doesn’t always do what he wants it to do and that can be very frustrating for him.

But this email message reframed my son. This teacher knows my son’s challenges, but she took the time to focus on and share his fabulous strengths and celebrate the wonder that he is. He is a risk taker. He perseveres when he sets his mind to something. He is strong. He is fun. He loves singing and music and his classmates.

He is curious and he is funny and he is loving.

This is how I see my son. It doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring the challenges. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Identifying our weaknesses can help us create opportunity to build those skills, but celebrating our strengths gives us opportunity to build our sense of self, to puff out our chest and to keep reaching for the next yellow bar in the yard or climb that tree that seems impossible.

In the times like the pre-bedtime sibling showdown, times when you need to give more, recognizing strengths is not always the first thought. Determination looks more like stubbornness and independence like non-compliance. So at those times, someone offering a different perspective or shining light on the things you don’t always hear is a breath of fresh air. It made me feel calmer which allowed me to walk back into the boys’ room calmer. I hugged instead of yelled, and pre-bedtime chaos flowed into bedtime stories and sweet sleep.

“I wanted to make sure you know about the beautiful moments, too.”

Thank you, Norma-Jean.

This story originally appeared on Exceptional Lives.

Getty image by Pahis

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