I Believe… by Lori Litke
I recently read an essay about the change that occurred in someone’s life because they had a person that believed in them. The young man I was reading about has Asperger’s, and his whole world was transformed because a friend believed he could be a writer. Because of that belief, he worked harder. He found the courage to take risks and, most importantly, he found a way to belief in himself.
I found myself thinking about the youth we serve at Bridges. We often hear them say so many critical things about themselves. In addition, I was so struck at how often I have felt like I was in a position of having to convince others of my own son’s potential.
Why is it that when it comes to disability we need to prove our kids are capable? Why is it that we cannot believe in the capacity of children who have disabilities without evidence? And most importantly, why are high expectations considered harmful and unrealistic?
When was the last time someone told a father of a hockey player, the dream his son will someday play in the NHL is too much? Why do we then, in explaining how painful it would be to live with all the unrealized dreams, suggest he should lower his expectations?
As children we believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny with little or no proof. As adults, most of us have faith in a higher power. Yet children with disabilities are robbed of the chance to have people believe in their potential every day, because there is just no evidence that they have potential.
Even more to the point, we see children robbed of opportunity because a diagnosis or standardized test seems to limit their potential. I have never read an evaluation that was more revealing than time I spent with a family. I have never seen a standardized test capture the hard work a child will do when sufficiently reinforced and challenged. I have never heard of a diagnosis that can predict the future. Yet every day I read, meet or hear of families that have supported amazing things for their children because they believed it was possible. When we believed in Santa, we could see evidence of his realness, because we were open to the possibility. Why do we deny the evidence of potential?
I have 3 wonderful boys, 2 sons with Autism and one “neuro-typical” and I have never been asked to prove that my neuro-typical son could read, do math, hold scissors. Yet with respect to my eldest, I have had to prove his intelligence over and over in order to ensure he was included in academic work.
I have always believed that children will only rise as high as the bar we set for them, yet I see such low bars set for children with disabilities.
When my own son was diagnosed, a good friend comforted me with the idea that there were good “homes” for children like my son. I did not feel comforted. I have always believed, and still remain steadfast in the belief that my son will have his own home, live in a community surrounded by people who value him, attend university and enjoy a career in something he values.
One of the strategies we use with children we support is the use of an “inner coach” to overcome our “inner critic” or “poison thoughts”. Many children’s poisonous thoughts come from things they have heard from peers, the looks of frustration and annoyance from adults, and the constant comparison they draw between themselves and their peers.
Imagine the power we have in the lives of the children we love and support when we start from a place of belief. Imagine the power we have to change a child’s sense of themselves by believing in them; capable of infinite possibilities. In believing in them, the looks of frustration are replaced with looks of pride. We must shine a light on their capacity not difference.
Our lack of belief comes from fear: fear of failure, fear of the pain of defeat and, fear that we will hear the inevitable “I told you so”. Fear keeps us from moving forward, seeing possibility and missing opportunity.
We tell children to replace their inner critic with an inner coach. To every parent, friend, family member or support worker I challenge you to do the same. Imagine the biggest goal you can think of for a youth with a disability in your life. Now I want you to banish ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary when thinking of how they can reach that goal. Never give up; today’s failure only means we have not yet figured out how. That only means we haven’t tried the right way yet. We must keep trying.
I can absolutely live knowing that we tried and failed; that is much easier to bear than failure with the regret of not even trying.
I would rather be the person remembered by my passion and unwavering, infallible belief, then the person that stood in the way and said ‘cant’ be done’. Here’s to all our “inner coaches”.
Lori Litke, BA
Owner, Program Director
Bridges ConsultingTags: autism, belong, belonging, children, citizenship, communication, community, compassion, disabilities, disability, empowerment, encouragement, equality, friendship, identity, inclusion, judgement, listening, parenting, parents of disabled children, support