Recently, I spoke with one of our Home Program moms. She related to me how skeptical she was about our program prior to making the decision to give it a try for her son with autism. In her mind, she had already tried everything so what could we possibly provide that nobody else had already offered? On top of that, a doctor, in whom she had great confidence, told her not to waste her time or money on our services.
What completely changed her mind was her first conversation with me when she called to learn more about the REACH approach to children who are struggling with developmental difficulties.
What did I say? I told her something at once simple and yet quite profound. I told her one of the cornerstones of our approach – that her son is not defined by his diagnosis and the most important thing we can do for any child is to always keep our focus on ability. What a novel concept!
[callout title=Our focus matters]Ability, possibility and potential are words that inspire…[/callout]
One might think that focusing on ability would be self evident. And yet, I was the first person who ever said to this mother that her precious little boy was more than a diagnosis of autism, more than a long list of disabilities. I told her I was sure there were plenty of things her son could do and if we focused on those abilities we could use them to create new abilities. It’s not magic, it’s simply how the human brain works. I know this to be true because I’ve been teaching parents how to do it for more than three decades. That alone allowed her to shift her focus away from all of the negativity and to see a world of possiblities.
Last week, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Putting politics aside, her remarks about her experience as the mother of a child with Down syndrome were right on the mark. Here is an excerpt from her speech (my emphasis):
“Three days after we gave birth to our son, Cole, we got news no parent expects. Cole was diagnosed with Down syndrome. The doctors told us he could have endless complications, heart defects, even early Alzheimer’s. They told us all the problems.”
Note the focus on pathology, disease and abnormality. Note that Cole is defined by his diagnosis, not by his potential. He is called a Down syndrome child, not a child with Down syndrome. Automatically in most people’s minds this means that Cole’s future is determined by what the textbook says about Down syndrome. Anytime this happens, and it happens all the time, a lid is placed on society’s expectations for children like Cole.
The Congresswoman went on, “But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities. We saw a gift from God. Today we see a 6-year old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen; who reads above grade level; and who is the best big brother in the world. We see all the things he can do, not those he can’t. Cole, and his sisters, Grace and Brynn, have only made me more determined to see the potential in every human life – that whether we are born with an extra twenty-first chromosome or without a dollar to our name – we are not defined by our limits, but by our potential.”
Note the focus on physiology, normality and wellness. Ability, possibility and potential are words that inspire, changing our perspective from negativity and despair to positivity and hope for the future. Sadly, most parents of children who have developmental challenges never hear those words.
We are doing all we can to change this by educating parents about the miracle of brain development. On February 26th we are delivering the first lecture of a 4-part series called the Power of Potential in Vancouver WA.
For those who can attend in person we’d love to see you there. For those who cannot the event will be simulcast live on the internet and then archived for later viewing. We are excited about this opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with a worldwide audience.
As part of our Pacific Northwest speaking tour we will teach our How To Unleash Your Child’s Hidden Potential workshop in Portland. This is an all day workshop specifically for parents of children with developmental difficulties. In addition, we are teaching our Purposeful Parenting 101 workshop for parents of “well” children in Seattle and Portland. This 3-hour workshop is ideal for expectant parents and those with children under 3. If you’re in one of these cities we encourage you to click on the appropriate link to sign up and attend!
Oh, and that skeptical mom who thought she had tried everything? Well, her little boy is now making beautiful progress and she and her husband are the organizers of the Power of Potential Lecture Series!