History Lesson – I believe in the importance of emotional support and learning from others

Janice - Lake Clear, New York
Entered on July 21, 2008

I believe in emotional support for parents when they learn that their child has a disability. We cannot ignore or dismiss the emotions experienced when trauma or crisis occurs in life. It’s there and it has to be acknowledged before a person can move forward in helping themselves or helping their child.

When I started to think about the history of caring for people with disabilities, my first thought was about Burt Blatt and his book Christmas in Purgatory. If there is anything that reminds us of what care looked like for people with developmental disabilities, it is in his books. They are a reminder of what reality was for people with disabilities.

“We stand on the strong shoulders of those before us.” Its original use was in other circles, but I had never heard that statement until I entered the disability world. We can only build on the successes of the past accomplished by those before us.

As parents of children with disabilities, we learn and hear about parents who have paved the way for us and for our children. They had few choices and made sacrifices to make life better for people with developmental disabilities and to help other parents. Their perseverance included lobbying for educational services we consider an entitlement.

Their determination included striving for a place to live other than an understaffed institution ward and activities to enrich a person’s day so they do not sit idle. These are things we consider an expectation.

We cannot forget the parents before us. We must continue to thank them for their strong shoulders and for their advocacy. When you meet a parent who has come before you, thank them for their work.

Parents before me knew that there had to be a better way. They believed in human dignity and in all people having abilities to build on. I believe this too and am grateful that my son has had the educational and social opportunities he has had. I hope someday John will have a best friend, just like my other sons have.

As “newer and younger” parents come forward and become the parents who others turn to for support, we welcome and thank them. We offer our shoulders and experience to those who follow us.

When a vision of possibility for people with disabilities has been brought forward, at least one parent was there with the vision long before professionals were involved. We can never stop dreaming of making life better.

Our dream at Parent to Parent is that no parent will be alone; we cannot stop being there for other parents and for each other. We must continue to recognize the importance of emotional support.

As challenging as times can be, we must remember to show gratitude, practice forgiveness and welcome the newcomer. Thank you.