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5 Life Lessons I Learned During My Daughter's Therapy Sessions

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My daughter began physical therapy when she was only 4 months old and started occupational therapy not long after. At the time, her hypotonia made it impossible for her to even lift her head. I spent my days watching the therapists try to teach her how to roll over, and in the evenings, I did my best to imitate what I saw them do. In whatever spare time I had left, I prayed that therapy would be the key to building up her strength and unlocking her potential.

Ali Cummins's daughter during a therapy session.

And the days turned to months, and the months turned to years. Rolling over turned into crawling, and crawling turned into walking.

I have no doubt the early intervention my daughter received played an instrumental part in where she is today — an age-appropriate classroom, running, jumping and dancing. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized her therapy sessions taught me some valuable life lessons as well.

1. Measure life in “inchstones”; forget the milestones.

Technology makes it all too easy to quickly search developmental skills your child “should” be reaching. Social media makes it even worse. Often times, I was saturated in a sea of milestones — reminders of what my child should be doing but wasn’t. While I was sincerely happy to see the accomplishments of my friends’ children, I was also often left trying to shrug off feelings of envy and defeat.

Therapy taught me the beauty of an “inchstone” — a small but powerful accomplishment. Sometimes in life, we become so focused on the mile that we forget all the sweet inches that led up to it. Count what truly matters; ignore the rest.

2. It’s OK to be afraid, but don’t let your fears consume you.

Some days, it feels as if there is so much to fear — medical procedures, surgeries and an endless slew of doctors around every corner. For the first two years of my daughter’s life, I spent my nights worrying about her future. I cried about the huge obstacles stacked against her. I cringed each time we were sent to see a new medical specialist. And then, the other day, my daughter asked to take gymnastics. I felt that old familiar fear immediately strike. What if she couldn’t keep up? What if she got injured? I looked to her physical therapist for insight. Her advice? Don’t let your fears stop your daughter from trying something new.

She was right. It’s true there are risks everywhere in life, but they are often accompanied by great rewards. Be bold. Don’t let fears stop you from living.

3. Determination is key.

Before my daughter started physical therapy, I gave up easily — if something was too hard, or too time consuming or if I was too tired. I gave up on diets. I gave up on projects. I was all too happy to be a self-proclaimed “quitter.”

Observing my daughter learn to walk uphill taught me the importance of a determined spirit. I watched one day as her therapist helped her walk on the uneven ground sprawled out in front of them. My daughter’s legs wobbled, the surface below her was soft under her feet and more than once, she fell forward onto the unkind ground. But, she never gave up. Fall after fall, she stood up more determined than the time before to master the hill. Eventually, she did.

Often times in life, we stand with unsteady legs on uneven ground. How many times we fall is not what makes us or breaks us. How many times we pick ourselves up and start again is what defines us in the end. Falling is inevitable; picking yourself back up is a choice. Determination makes all the difference.

4. While determination is important, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break.

There were moments during her occupational therapy sessions when my daughter would become tired or frustrated. I would watch as her therapist responded in various ways: She would give her a break. She would redirect her. She would remind her that if she finished the task at hand, they would do an activity of her choosing. And it worked. Every time. As an adult, I too experienced a daily helping of exhaustion and annoyance, but I rarely gave myself a break to recoup, relax and recover.

When life throws difficult tasks or extreme stressors your way, don’t hesitate to take a break. Read a book, go for a walk, listen to music. Allow yourself time to recharge. You’re worth it. Frustration won’t allow you to accomplish much, but a rested you with a fresh outlook is undefeatable.

5. Hope is powerful.

With each fall, my daughter’s therapists reminded me we were a step closer to walking. In times of darkness and despair, they recalled the many moments of light and triumph we experienced. When I focused on the obstacles and worries of today, they refocused me on the promises of tomorrow.

Therapy taught me this truth: In our lives, we will experience defeat and sadness. There will be days when we are unsure of just about everything. There will be moments when giving up seems to be the easiest option. We will compare, and we will cry. We will feel extreme fear and bouts of envy. But, at the end of each day, there will always be hope, and for me, that is more than enough.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: March 29, 2016
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