Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Power of love

There are seven stages of grief, the first being denial and the last being acceptance. How quickly one moves from the first to the last stage determines the person's will to fight and survive. Most get stuck at 'denial' - sad but true.

As part of a series on women with grit, I dedicate this piece to a lady who has not only come to terms with her personal challenge, but has gone a step beyond. She has opened a school for children with learning disabilities. With every step that she takes in this direction there are many like me who gain courage and inspiration. When most of us get dumbfounded by our personal demons, this lady goes ahead and brings hope to the life of others, similarly affected like her only son.

“If there is one thing I learned about friendship after my son was diagnosed as a special kid, it is that it can be very fragile. Being a friend during good times is easy. Yet it is during the difficult times that we learn who our real friends are. I am forever grateful to those friends and family members who supported our family after the diagnosis. They made a choice to accept my son for who he is and help us in any way they could. Making the choice to support a family affected by their child having a learning disorder is one of the greatest gifts you can give. It is also very likely that your act of kindness may turn out to be one of the greatest gifts you receive back as well,” says a mother of a 12 year old autistic child.

In your lifetime, you will probably know more people and families affected by some or the other disability. You can choose to be part of the solution by helping support a friend, family member or neighbour. Take the time to learn not just about the disability, but the individual child. Make the decision to accept children with disabilities and teach your children how they can help by being a friend too.

When a child is first diagnosed as not socially ‘normal’, parents often scramble to find appropriate services, doctors, schools and therapists. What we don't always anticipate is that relationships with friends, family and neighbours often change. Some will stand by our side, doing what they can to help and embrace our child no matter the diagnosis. However, some people will either sit quietly on the sidelines or abandon the relationship altogether.

So what happens when you find out that your friend, family member or neighbour has a child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability? How can you help your friend? How can you help their child?  There are many ways you can assist, from talking to offering a play date.

Be there; spare a few hours every week to reach out to families who are facing this challenge. It sounds easy enough, but parents of such children need someone to listen and ask how they are doing. As a friend, you may not understand all the jargon, but you can lend an ear and also learn in the process. Offering to come over for a cup of coffee or to get together just to talk can be one of the best ways to help your friend get out of his/her bubble and combat the isolation. If not a friend, you can also contribute your time to non-profit schools and organisations that are catering to these children. The schools need more than trained staff, they need people to paint their benches and mow the lawn. These schools are doing a great job and you can be a part of it by just being open to the idea.

Bring forth a smile, have a play date. Play dates with special children might not be like a typical play date. Even if the play date is a little out of the ordinary, it will offer the kids an opportunity to learn typical social behaviours/skills from other children. For the typical kids, the play date may provide a lesson in acceptance and tolerance of people who are different from them. Acceptance is a lesson that is learned best by doing, so your children will benefit as well. It can be of great experience for both families. As neighbours to affected families go a little beyond sharing a cup of sugar. Invite them over with their child and be open and accepting of the family and the related issues.

Offer respite, it is the best help you can give. Whether the child is a toddler, adolescent or adult, respite is often a complicated issue for parents. Many parents who have children with disabilities are overwhelmed with the day to day responsibilities. Some children on the spectrum do not sleep well during the night and that further adds to the exhaustion. However, when you have a child with special needs; it can be difficult to find someone you trust to watch your child. An offer to provide brief respite from a trusted friend or family member who knows how to appropriately interact with the child with special needs is a great gift. Whether it be one hour or a night, any offer would be a gift for a friend in need. It seems like a simple favour, but it can mean everything to an overwhelmed parent to have a few hours to go grocery shopping or to just spend some alone time with their spouse.
The gift of money is as important as the gift of time. Not all afflicted families can afford the best schools and the best teaching techniques. Does that mean that they have to forgo the latest tools available to help their child? No, they won’t have to, if you step in. As a non-profit organisation, many of the schools for children with special needs rely on the support of community volunteer to help accomplish their goals. If you get in touch with the schools near your community, you will be aware of the ways you can help fund a child or a tool, or even help in raising funds for the school. Donations need not always mean truckloads of money, your change that adds to the weight of your wallet can also go a long way in bringing simple joys to the children whose parents are finding it tough.  There are various opportunities to offer your aid, you just need to be aware and willing.

Joy is a simple thing. The quantity you spread is almost always proportional to the quantity you feel. Light up a smile today, extend your hand, embrace joy.