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Monday, June 9, 2014

Motivational Mondays: Parenting Special Needs Kids Is Like a Treasure Hunt Without a Map

Thought for the Day: Yesterday, I watched the Tony Awards. Although I have watched the Oscar Awards almost every year since I was a child, I do not remember watching the Tonys. In many ways this is surprising to me since I always loved musicals and know the songs from when I was a child. The program hosted by Hugh Jackman was wonderful. It allowed me to get a taste of plays and musicals from Broadway. Since I live just an hour from New York City, I try to see as many as I can. What stuck me even more was the number of winners who spoke about accomplishing their dreams. Many also mentioned how their parents played a role in their accomplishments. One acceptance speech stood out for me, since it highlighted a parenting principle that applies to all parents; however, it is especially important for parents of special needs students. Parenting is at times like a treasure hunt without a map.

On the news yesterday after the Tonys, the identity of the secret twitter account holder, @HiddenCash, who was hiding cash around the country was also revealed. Somehow the Tonys and the twitter treasure hunt got me thinking about the challenge of parenting special needs children. 

The comment that stuck out for me came in an emotional acceptance speech by Audra McDonald. McDonald won Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for her portrayal of Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. It was her 6th Tony award which set a new record. Not only does she now have the most Tony Awards by any actor, but she is also the only award winner with awards in 4 different acting categories. I was only familiar with her work on the ABC TV program "Private Practice" before I saw an interview with McDonald on CBS Sunday Morning

What stood out for me however, were the words of thanks she gave to her late parents "for ignoring their doctor's advice and not medicating their overactive daughter. Instead," she said, "they directed me toward the theater." In my practice, I see many parents struggling with decisions on how to help their special needs children. The diagnoses may vary from Attention Deficit With or Without Hyperactivity to Conduct Disorders to Autism to Dyslexia or Childhood Anxiety or Depression. The common denominator is that the parents are all on a treasure hunt searching for clues and advice from professionals wherever they can find it.

Although professionals do their best to help them, parents know their children better than anyone else in the world. Their observations 24/7 of their child are the best clues that must be respected by doctors, therapists, and teachers. As a psychologist, I always try to assist them in the search for hidden gems, the islands of strength, which at times may be buried beneath layers of disabilities and low self esteem which come with the territory. McDonald's parents somehow recognized her passion and helped her follow it.

Sometimes, the talent is obvious, but at other times it is necessary to help children try multiple activities until they find the one that speaks to them. If your child has not found the activity that excites them, keep helping them try new things. Get them involved in programs like the Girl or Boy Scouts which expose them to various activities to earn badges. 

Recently there was another amazing story on CBS Sunday morning Breaking Through Autism With Disney Movies. What appeared to be an obsessive tendency to watch Disney films turned out to be life lessons that have helped some autistic youths to learn about relationships. 

Although the treasure hunt without a map can be frustrating, it is well worth the effort. When successful, it can make the difference between an unfulfilling life and helping a child accomplish their dreams.

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