The Things Teagan Taught Us

When I wrote about the cookies, my friend Becky commented on how Teagan has opened her and her family’s eyes and hearts.  It got me thinking about everything I’ve learned being a special needs parent that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I could talk all day about these lessons – but thought it would be more fun to hear from people with differing levels of association with special needs families.  So I did some asking around – here are a few of my favorites.

The question: what has having someone with special needs in your life opened your eyes to or made you realize that you hadn’t before?

“It has made me grateful for the little things; things you would just expect a child to do can really be milestones.”                   – Maryellyn, Grandma

“Before I knew Teagan, I naively thought of a special needs child being completely different from a typical child, and I think a lot of people think that way.  I’ve realized she has a very similar personality, likes/dislikes, attitude, etc. as my own kids.  ”                                      – Morgan, neighbor

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“I’ve learned that parents of kids with special needs still like to talk about every day kid stuff.…when to switch beds, potty training trials, how to overcome picky eating, etc.  In other words, kids with special needs are, well, kids.”                                                                            – Laura, friend

“I’m not that important.  Sometimes at the grocery store the baggers are men and women with special needs.  I used to get frustrated having to wait for them to bag my groceries. But you know what?  My life is not so busy or important that I can’t take that time to chat with them or ask them how they are doing.  Maybe it will make the people who love them so happy that someone took the time to say hi.  Maybe it will make their day.  It actually makes mine.”                                                  – Tracie, friend

“I appreciate life so much more and see that people with disabilities can really be angels on this earth showing us the true meaning of life, if we let them! Acceptance, love, community,strength and faith…  these things matter!  Not whether you buy a house, it’s size, your car, your job, your weight, your looks.  If you can see past all that, you can know real love, experience true friendships, the simple joys in life.  We should look to those who accept their challenges head on, or are different than everyone else, as inspiration to be more like them!!”                – Lisa, friend

“I want to help and have so many questions, but sometimes the biggest help I can be is to be a friend and not ask them.  Because sometimes the parents need a break from it.”           – DeAnn, a friend who is also an educator

“So many kids with special needs are incredibly happy and at the end of the day, they want to love and be loved, the same way all people do.  We get lost in material items or even accomplishments sometimes, thinking “If I just had that one thing…” or “If I could just do this…I’d be happy…” But I think my time with kids with varying learning needs has taught me that they love and want to be loved just like anyone else and can be extremely happy.”                 – Amy, friend, cousin by marriage, also an educator

“In the past I was ignorant in the use of words.  Not realizing that they can be hurtful when used incorrectly.  Also, I now give special needs teachers and families so much respect for the work and care that they give; I see how much work is involved in each goal and accomplishment.”  – Jason, neighbor

“Kids don’t make the rigid judgements we do.  There are children of varying skill levels in my daughter Maddy’s class.  I’ve tried to encourage her to be accepting, and even more so to appreciate the things that come naturally to her.”                                                                                  – Becky, friend

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 3.48.46 PMTeagan adores Maddy

“I’ve learned not to place limits on anyone. I have an Uncle who has special needs. Troy can be sneaky to get some things he wants – obviously not always a good thing – but it taught me he is a lot smarter than we sometimes give him credit for. I’ve also learned to SMILE. I don’t know what it is, but when Troy smiles big, everyone smiles! I’m not sure if it is because he is a pure soul or that he exudes so much happiness when he smiles.”                                                                        – Tiff, neighbor

And the one I’ll leave on comes from Uncle Jeff (my brother).  He said “I have to admit, I never really thought there’d be someone in my family with special needs so it was something I never really thought about, but then it happened.”  Word.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it (whatever “it” is) CAN happen to you.  So be kind.  Shove it all in there – your heart has room.

He also said “I love my little Teags very much”  – I agree with him on that point too 🙂

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Special Needs Parenting: Explaining My Child to Yours

So that one time, when it took me a whole year to respond to a question…

A good friend asked me this question last October.  When she asked, I was really excited to give a profound, eloquent answer.  An answer that would open peoples’ minds.  An answer that would make lives better for kids with special needs.

Problem was, I didn’t have one.  Because it’s a really tough question.

“What do you want me to tell my child about yours?”

Oy.  How do you explain to children that everyone is different, and some are even more different?  How do you illustrate empathy?  How do you teach that just because something is unfamiliar to you, it doesn’t mean it’s scary or something to make fun of – a concept some adults have trouble accepting?

After a lot of thought, I’ve boiled it down to something I think kids can understand.  It’s a subject everyone likes, and as it’s December 7th, it’s timely:

Cookies.

Cookies, and the recipes used to make these wonderful treats.

Cookies

There are recipes for all different kinds of cookies.  Sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, some with M&Ms, some that taste like gingerbread.  Cookies with hershey’s kisses, cookies with sprinkles, and even cookies that have frosting.  Raisin cookies, giant cookies, cookies in sandwich form.  Heck, some cookies even look like a brownie!  There are more cookies and cookie recipes than you could possibly list – but at the end of the meal, when you get right down to it, they are all still cookies.

People are kind of like cookies.  We are all different, and we are all made from a recipe that tells us what we will be – except instead of “chocolate with coconut,” our recipe calls for brown hair and blue eyes.  Or maybe an ingredient that is a little more extreme – like not growing as tall as everyone else.  Or not being able to learn as fast, or being able to talk the way everyone else does.   It all goes back to the recipe.  We don’t know why some recipes have ingredients that aren’t the same as others, but that’s okay – while I love me some oatmeal raisin, what a boring world it would be if that was the only cookie there was.

Now here is the part I can’t equate to cookies…teaching children to accept those who are different.  Some children are more nurturing than others – I’ve seen it.  They are perhaps more willing to be patient, or even enjoy being the special helper.  And some kids are just busy being kids, and that’s fine too.  But what I hope everyone teaches their children, is that everyone wants to be included, and everyone wants to be accepted.

That is a subject for another day.  Hmmm, I’m thinking…maybe something about pies.

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