This article originally appeared in The Good Men Project on May 16, 2017.
I recently had a conversation with someone and the subject naturally turned to our children. When I said that I had one child with special needs and two other children, whom we adopted from another country, who needed extra time and attention to catch up on basic educational skills, his first words were “I feel so sorry for you.” Why I said. “Because of your poor luck,” he replied. I told him the same thing that I am telling you. Don’t feel sorry for me, my kids are doing just fine. My oldest daughter is deaf and has Cerebral Palsy but it is not the death sentence that some imagine. She is in a regular school program, is consistently on the honor roll and is on track to attend the college of her choice. Yes, we make accommodations for her physical challenges, however, she is mentally equal to her peers.
My younger two children were adopted from a Caribbean island called St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). They were older when we adopted them and while it is true that they came from unfortunate circumstances that caused them to be behind academically and socially, we have taught them that they are the captains of their own ship and the masters of their destiny. Although the official language of SVG is English, they were only familiar with the local dialect called St. Vincent Creole; therefore, when they first came to the United States, they could barely read and write. We spent many hours reading with them and working with their teachers to provide additional resources so that they could catch up to their peers. They aren’t there yet but they are light years ahead of where they were when they first arrived.
In the cases of all three of my children, the key has been my wife and I being actively involved as parents. We set high expectations and instilled in them the value of hard work. We taught them that they can accomplish any goal as long as they are willing to put in the work to achieve it. Some think it is good to give kids (especially kids with special needs) “realistic” goals. We taught them to dream big. I remember sitting in a career counseling meeting at my oldest daughter’s school where we were discussing her career goals. When asked, my daughter stated that her goal is to advocate for others with special needs and she wants to pursue a career in the legal field. When the teacher started talking about a career as a paralegal or legal assistant, my daughter was respectful but clearly stated that she was thinking more along the lines of attending law school. When the counselor said ok, how about the University of Texas (we live in Austin, Texas and UT is not far from home), she replied that she was actually thinking of going to Harvard.
Since coming to America, my youngest two children have had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and to be exposed to science and technology. In St. Vincent, they thought of success as being able to have a job selling vegetables at a vegetable stand on the side of the road. Recently, my youngest daughter has started to become interested in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and has joined the science club at her middle school.
The point that I am trying to make is that anything is possible if you dream big enough and you are willing to work for it. Special needs kids do not need to be placed in a corner or given low expectations. With the right accommodations, they can grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, a filmmaker or anything that they choose.
At the end of my conversation with that particular person, I said, “Don’t be surprised if one day you child warmly refers to my child as ‘counselor’ or even ‘Boss’.” Never underestimate someone who has a goal in mind and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it.