Special Needs Parenting :: On Comparisons - by Carey Nelson Handley

I distinctly remember bringing my then three year old daughter to my friend’s house for a visit even thought it was over 20 years ago. She had a jungle gym play yard in her backyard and I watched as her son, who was just nine months older than my daughter, did flips on the bars and navigated each part of it with confidence and impressiveness.

Meanwhile, my daughter contented herself on the floor with toys. No amount of coaxing would change her mind. There was no way she was going outside on the play yard. When my friend’s son started counting and showing us the other educational skills he knew, my daughter just sat there. She had not grasped any of it - not even the simple skills.

My friend told me that my daughter would be able to do it soon enough and I remember thinking, “I don’t think she will.” I don’t know exactly why I thought that but somehow, I just knew. And, I was right.

A year or so later, another scene is etched in my mind. I’ve always found it fascinating that, at least in my experience as a parent of a child with Special Needs, I seem to remember things that most people take for granted. I had spent a year trying to get my daughter to climb the play yard inside McDonald’s. I would sit on the bottom step with her, talking, coaxing, encouraging her to no avail.

One afternoon, some parents and kids I knew from daycare joined us for an early supper at McDonald’s so the children could continue to play together. I remember exactly where we were sitting, who was sitting across from me and who was there with us. I remember that my back was to the play yard while another mother sat across from me watching our kids play. Suddenly, she looked up and then back at me and calmly said, “Your daughter is at the top of the play yard.” I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast! I whipped around and looked up in time to see her crawling through the suspended tunnel. I think I cried. I also think the other mother was the only one to understand the magnitude of what had just happened.

If you ask most parents of young adults if they remember the first time their children climbed the play yard at McDonald’s, my guess is they will look at you like you just grew another head. The fact is that these seemingly inconsequential things mean everything to parents whose children develop much more slowly than usual.

For a year, I had to stifle the urge to compare my daughter to other children at that fast food restaurant. I had watched all of her peers jump right in and climb more than a year before she was able to do the same thing. It may not seem like a big deal but when you watch the other children in class continually surpass your child in every area, it tends to bring you down in a big way. You begin to wonder if you are failing as a parent. Even for the little things like play yards.

About the time we were wondering if we were failing at basic skills like climbing play yards, we took our daughter to an Occupational Therapist who diagnosed, among other things, Gravitational Insecurity. One definition is “Excessive reaction to or fear of ordinary movement or change in head position; avoidance or pronounced emotional response to situations normally requiring adjustment of sense of balance.” Ah-ha! So, that explains why she would put her hands on the curb before stepping up on it. Who knew!

When she was bitten 35 times by fire ants and never said a word? Sensory Integration Dysfunction!

Extremely late potty training? An immature Central Nervous System, said the Neurologist!

What had seemed like failure after failure on our part, had names! And, the best thing about having names is that I could now research. We could now get help for her!

Comparisons can be dangerous - both to your child and to you. If we feel we (or they) never measure up, it’s easy to stop trying.

While we might never find out the why’s (why does she have x, y or z), we at least found enough knowledge to get a game plan and a stable of educators, therapists and doctors.

Now, I flip it around. Instead of looking at comparisons and the things she can’t do, I am in awe of the things she can do. She is her own person, believed in, beloved by many. We celebrate her abilities. The truth is, it’s hard to see those same children from daycare go to college (mine never will), marry and have children of their own (nope) but it’s equally rewarding for me to see who she has become.

Jennie Finch said, “Try not to get lost in comparing yourself to others. Discover your gifts and let them shine!”

I think the same goes for our children.

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