So maybe I've got just a little too much free time right now.
Or maybe I'm on a "Rocky Mountain High".
But I've been thinking just a bit about the Bird's future. I mean, way-off future. Since thinking about what the future might possibly hold for Lily typically produces nothing but a bunch of anxiety and fear in me, I try to avoid it at all costs.
I think it makes me nervous because there is so much unknown. Will she talk? Will she graduate from high school? Will she drive a car? Will she ever live on her own?
I just don't know.
Raising a child with special needs is challenging.
Challenging because our kids don't fit the mold.
They are different.
And the general population doesn't always know what to do with different.
Yes, we've come a long way since people with special needs were sequestered away from society in asylums. Or when parents were told to place their children in homes because they would never progress and would be a burden on the family.
Yes, we have learned that many of these special needs individuals are highly intelligent and very capable of learning.
Yes, there are many services available today for our kids to help ensure that they can be contributing members of society and have a bright future.
But here's where my thinking starts to veer off course just a little.
Many of those services are about conformity. Teaching our kids how to function in society with their peers. How to sit in a classroom with others without causing interruptions. How to write with proper pencil grip on lined paper. How to appropriately walk the halls of a school. How to check out a library book. How to do a project for the science fair.
Yes, exceptions are made so that our kids can participate in these tasks and be successful.
But at the end of the day, the goal is to end up completing those same tasks as their peers.
Our kids may take a different route but the final destination is the same - do what their peers are doing.
Now, I don't have a huge problem with that.
Our kids do have to learn how to appropriately attend school and all that entails if they are going to attend school. I don't believe we should be sending them to school for free babysitting. There should be active learning taking place, even if the starting place is simply learning how to behave at school. Let's face it - it's going to be hard to teach a kid how to read if he can't sit still.
But it is an undeniable fact that our kids work hard. When a typical child attends school, things like lunch, recess, and PE are essentially breaks. For a special needs child, there are no real breaks. Lunch, recess, and PE are just more opportunities to practice skills that help them "conform", to blend in and be more like their peers.
As long as a child is continuing to learn, to meet educational and behavioral goals, and is progressing successfully, then there is no reason to assume that the course of "conformity" is having any negative impact on him.
But I can't help thinking beyond the school years. To the time when Lily is 18 or 20 years old.
What if she doesn't want to conform anymore?
What if she's still nonverbal and doesn't really want to use a special device for communicating?
What if she's happy just doing something simple, something that gives her immense satisfaction and joy, but doesn't really count towards the statistics showing that she could be a highly functioning member of society?
For example, what if sketching all day long makes her happy? Or tending chickens and goats brings her joy? What if writing stories makes her feel peaceful? Or gardening makes her feel productive?
Will I be ok with that? With allowing her to do just that?
Or deep down inside, do I want her to keep pushing, to keep working so very hard, to keep "conforming", like I might expect her to do if she didn't have special needs?
While I obviously can't see 12 years down the road, and many things will change between now and then, I do want to reach the day when Lily is able to make her own decisions. And when that day comes, I want to be respectful and supportive.
I want to help her achieve whatever it is that brings her joy.
I am not concerned with my child being a special needs success story in the eyes of the world.
I am concerned with my child being a special needs success story in her own eyes.
And in the long run, isn't that what really matters?