Disabilities in Others Teach us About our Own Humanity
I believe that disabilities in those around us teach us about our own humanity. Every fall, when school starts, this belief is renewed in me. For I am a mother of two sons with learning disabilities.
I didn’t grow up believing that disability had a benefit or purpose. I grew up in India after the end of British rule. Like most middle class Indians, my parents valued academic achievement over everything else. So I studied, won scholarships, came to the United States, and became a professional.
I only associated with people who were academically successful. Perhaps I even looked down on those I considered low achievers.
All that changed the day I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and discovered him confined to a “slow reading” group. Until then I had not seriously considered Attention Deficit Disorder or Language Processing problems. I refused to accept the diagnosis, afraid of stigmatizing him for life.
But as my children grew, I was persuaded to subject them to a battery of tests. Although intelligent, articulate, and personable, they both experienced some difficulty in absorbing abstract information.
I vividly recall my first Individual Education Plan meeting. Even though we had moved to a better school district by then, amenities for children who learned differently were scant. Meeting after meeting left me in tears as administrators stonewalled my requests for support.
“Why me? Why my children?” I couldn’t help thinking.
One day, on the brink of despair, I wrote a four page letter outlining my son’s need for accommodations. I witnessed a minor miracle as the administrators’ expressions changed from indifference to sorrow while reading my plea for spending a tiny percentage of resources on my son who loved school but struggled.
That day, I learned to be an advocate.
Slowly, I learned to set aside all expectations and to appreciate my children simply as human beings. I learned to nurture my older son’s tactile capabilities and my younger son’s musical talents. I learned to praise their generosity, kindness, and optimism every day.
I realize now that because of the need for closer involvement in their homework and projects, I have had a very special relationship with my sons.
From my children, I have learned humility. Recalling myself as a young girl with my hand raised in response to every question in class, I feel sorry now for the children who were less fortunate.
In order to rear my sons, I have had to delve deep inside myself to connect with that tender humanity within me. I have been forced to become more patient, less judgmental, and more compassionate.
Most importantly, I have learned to live in my heart rather than in my head.
I believe that my children’s learning disabilities have served a larger purpose, to bring out the best in me and to put me in touch with my own humanity.
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