Raising kids with disabilities

January 22, 2011

A while ago, a friend told me that when she had her son, a few people questioned her ability to care for him.  I was astonished.  My friend, who is a single mom, is one of the most devoted and capable parents I know, and it’s hard to believe that anyone who knew her would imagine she could be anything less than a great mom.

So what’s the problem?  My friend uses crutches and sometimes a wheelchair to get around.  This hasn’t held her back in any other area of her life, but for some reason, people thought it would keep her from being a good parent.

It seems a little funny to me that this attitude surprised me.  But I guess it’s because I see parents with disabilities as kind of mirror images of myself. Many of the issues we face are similar. Grocery shopping, for example, is not easy with a kid and a wheelchair–it doesn’t matter who’s pushing and who’s riding. Parenting is hard, and when someone involved has a disability, it’s very hard in one specific way. So why do I get automatic “super parent” status while my friend has to prove herself over and over again?

I know several parents who also happen to have physical disabilities, and I have learned a lot from them. I’ve learned that my daughter’s disability doesn’t have to hold her back from attending college, getting married, or having kids and grandkids. Adults who have “been there” are wonderful resources for parents trying to do the right thing for their special needs kids.

Not only that, but children who grow up riding on their parent’s wheelchairs learn important things about acceptance and perseverance. I had to wait until my twenties, when Chloe came along, to learn these things, but my friends’ kids were able to start at birth.

One of the best play dates Chloe and I ever had was at the house of another friend of mine, a woman who has cerebral palsy and is an advocate for people with disabilities. Unlike most kids, her two boys boys were immediately comfortable around Chloe.  They brought us different toys and tried different games until they found things she liked, and then proceeded to entertain her for an hour and a half. These kids have met many people with different disabilities, and they have grown up knowing–really knowing–that there are all kinds of ways to be human, a rare and valuable gift that only a mother with a disability could give.


One Response to “Raising kids with disabilities”

  1. Lisa Says:

    I remember totally stressing about our first visit to Arkansas when I knew that Lara was old enough (around 4, I think) to ask about why Chloe was in a wheelchair. Should we sit her down and have a long talk about people with disabilities? Should we say nothing? Should we call Jon and Camilla and ask them how to handle it? And then I was plagued by my own worries: Would Lara be polite? Would she say something innocent but totally rude? Would we irrevocably damage our relationship with our beloved Arkansas family? I was a mess. In the end, I decided to just not say a word about it–let it be what it would be. It was barely two minutes after Chloe rolled in that Lara asked Aunt Camilla why Chloe was in a wheelchair. Oh Lord, I thought, here it comes. Well, at least we’ll get it over with early and can hopefully recover from it all before we leave. And then, with calmness and clarity, Aunt Camilla said something like, “Well, Chloe’s body has trouble getting messages from her brain, so it’s harder for her to move. She needs the wheelchair to help her body out.” In what become my absolute proudest parent moment ever, Lara looked at her Aunt Camilla and said, “Oh, that’s okay.” And Camilla said, “Yes, it is.” And that was that. Lara continues to adore Chloe, not because of or in spite of her disability, but because Chloe’s a fun, sassy girl just like her. Lara loves to watch Chloe’s food go down the tube and let Aunt Camilla know when it needs to be filled up again. Lara and Adam both love to play on the floor with Chloe, roll stuff on her tray, play hide and seek, watch shows together–anything and everything young cousins can do. And Adam LOVES to ride around in Chloe’s wheelchair. I am thankful as a person and as a parent to know Chloe b/c she makes me better at being both.

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