By Brandy Browne
It is fair to say that parents of differently wired children are presented with documentation of their children’s weaknesses far more often than parents of typically developing children are. Rather than leaning into their strengths, there is great focus placed upon any perceived weaknesses. Parents of atypical children sit in meetings with school officials that design plans to minimize the disruptions that go with difficulty self regulating, as well as addressing any academic weaknesses. We attempt to “fix” atypical children into being “normal.” The teacher in me struggles with this revelation. If I see a student that struggles with math, I attempt to address the math weakness. However, I can definitely see how this course of action conveys the message that if you don’t “get it,” you aren’t normal, and not normal is “bad.” Thinking of it that way is enough to break this early childhood educator’s heart.
In the final chapters of her book, Reber discusses the importance of being a powerful advocate for our children. “Cultural change-maker Jess Weiner likens her advocacy style to negotiating a car sale- she knows what she needs and her job is to get the other person to give it to her. She suggests language such as ‘My goal in having this conversation with you is to come up with a solution for my child to be successful in this class. I’m asking you to work with me on that solution. Here’s what I’m proposing. What do you propose?’ This lets the other person know there is no other option in this scenario- we’re going to get to a solution” (p 202). There will be times that negotiations will be tricky…it often requires time, money, or extra resources that are difficult for many institutions to come by. However, in the best interest of our children, we have to become comfortable enough with confrontation that we continue to advocate for what is best for them.
Finally, in an ode to the popular meme “Find your tribe and love them hard,” Reber argues that we absolutely must stop wasting our time on people that are committed to misunderstanding us. She declares, “Here’s the thing. Spending time with people who aren’t OUR PEOPLE is exhausting. And when we’re raising kids who lie outside the window of ‘normal,’ we don’t really have the time or energy to help people who are never gonna get it. On top of that, apologizing, not just for our children but in front of them, is definitely not how we want to operate. Not only do our kids recognize what we’re doing (and I guarantee it doesn’t feel good to them), but we’re also reinforcing the idea that difference is bad- that it’s something that needs to be apologized for- which is the exact opposite of what we want to do if our goal is to change perceptions and foster acceptance” (p 215). Sometimes, these people will be our friends and family, who are filled with unsolicited advice. These moments are challenging. Often, their advice stems from being uncomfortable with what they do not understand. In these moments, it is our job to take a deep breath and remember that we know our children better than anyone. Take the advice for what it is, an attempt to make sense of an issue that they have never had to work through themselves, and move on. Choose to build your innermost tribe with people that not only “get it,” but choose to spread love and encouragement to those of us in the trenches.