Friday, February 10, 2012

What Did You Just Call My Daughter?

On the benefits of having an open mind about one's child called a "retard", or having intellectual deficits, being mentally deficient, and other interesting and ridiculous things...

When I was just starting out as a child and school psychologist in Syracuse, NY almost 35 years ago, I administered batteries of tests to children to determine their eligibility for programs designed to remediate their learning disabilities, what were termed their "handicaps" at that time. Armed with the best that Syracuse University's school and clinical programs taught, I offered parents a clear and cogent understanding (using of course the best practice efforts at that time) of their child's diagnosis and needs in clinical terms.

I was so impossibly wrong about how to go about sharing this information, not having the slightest clue about how to impart this information mindfully and with humility. I cringe at the thought of my arrogance then at those parent interpretives. At remembering how the parents bravely fought not to crack open, break down, cry with shame. And I was so proud of myself: laying out their child's disabilities and deficiencies with devastating clarity.

I sat, holding back my sobs, my fears, my heart and body slammed and split open by the devastating words, the mountain of words, that inadequately described our beloved and struggling daughter. We listened, as professional after professional mounted, with devastating clarity of their own, a campaign designed to convince my husband and myself of her inadequacies, her deficits, her inability, her other-ness.

When we finally found a school community in another state which offered her a chance at a life filled with purpose, with laughter, with opportunity, I cried with joy. Recently, over a Skype conversation with our daughter, she proudly held up a stunningly multi-colored handmade card. About 10 years ago, we were told by a sorry excuse for a teacher (my daughter's name for the woman was "That Witch") at a public school meeting that included over 15 school staff and four of us (my husband, myself, our amazing Occupational Therapist Jo Teachman and our friend Dr. Gail Rodin, neuropsychologist extraordinaire) that our daughter would never learn to read or write, or tie her shoes. As my mother (the teacher who retired after 43 years) once remarked about the way my daughter is put together: "The cloth is whole (it's cloth of gold).

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