By Dennis McGeehan, republished from the Catholic Writers’ Guild blog.
This is the first in what will be a monthly post on parenting children with disabilities. Up front, I want to get out of the way any idea that I plan to sugarcoat the challenge, hence the use of the word disability and not the more PC term Special Needs. I will in later articles use that term and others, but to begin with, let’s meet the situation head-on.
A child with mental, physical, or emotional issues can, in reality, require more care than any loving parent or family can provide on their own. It all depends on the severity of the condition. Something as basic as bathing can be unsafe for one person to do because of the danger of injury to both the child and the caregiver.
But before we explore that and other issues, I want to answer why articles on caring for a disabled child are even appropriate for the Catholic Writers Guild blog.
All Guild members state they agree with the mission statement of the Guild, which proclaims that we are loyal to the Magisterial teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. A fundamental teaching of the Church is that we are pro-life and there is a preferential choice given to protect the most vulnerable. Those would include the child in the womb, the elderly, and those who live with physical, mental, and emotional problems that make daily living a challenge. Because of this, as a Catholic writer, I feel it is incumbent on me to address the situation.
Why me? First, for those who do not know, I am the father of eight children, with four of my sons dealing with significant challenges. Two have Asperger’s syndrome. The third nearly died at age one due to a three-hour grand mal seizure; his cognitive abilities were damaged by this incident. The forth has a learning disability and is legally blind in one eye and also deals with Tourette’s syndrome. So I can speak from personal experience as a parent on this issue.
I also worked professionally for thirty-four years with persons living with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. I can draw on that experience to give suggestions and also cautions in making decisions.
What do I hope to achieve by writing these articles? First, I hope I am able to help other parents who are trying to help their children. I will admit I do not have all the answers, but by broaching the topic maybe others will be able to offer their insight. Second, and in my mind the more important issue, is to give a clarion call to all who read these blogs of the danger faced by those living with disabilities in our society. The suggestions that abortion or euthanasia is the humane answer to keep persons with disabilities from suffering is so brazenly discussed that refuting it will soon be Politically Incorrect. This is an issue that impacts everyone alive today, because you are one slip and fall away from becoming disabled yourself.
Since it was mentioned, let’s discuss the suffering the pro-death sect assumes is felt by those with disabilities. Point-blank, it’s a crock. I have known hundreds of individuals with a wide array of diagnoses. In their day-to-day life, they are in no more pain than the rest of humanity. To be sure, they do feel pain, as any other person, when they are made fun of, ridiculed, or worse, protected to the point of not being able to live as they wish to.
That last point is one I will stress often: the tendency to suffocate the disabled with kindness, or, to put it in a different frame, to refuse to allow the disabled to take a risk, to fail, and to try again. The right to risk is fundamental to having freedom. Without it, life is a pale shadow of what it can be. Besides, failure is a good teacher if one is open to learning.
A common misconception is that the learning-disabled are stupid. Trust me, that is totally wrong. I have known persons whose IQs measured below 20 who knew how to manipulate situations and people as skillfully as any James Bond villain. Learning is possible. It requires the right combination of motivation (why should I learn this?), patience (many attempts may need to be tried), and the proper approach (not all learn the same way).
Now seems to be the time to also sound an important warning: Do not take the advice of experts as gospel. Persons with lots of letters after their name are experts in a subject, NOT a person. You are the expert on your family member. Use the subject experts for advice, but filter it through your daily experience living with your family member.
My job as a father is to provide the necessities of life, food, clothing, shelter, and love, to protect my children and their mother, and to do what is necessary when the world endangers my family. At times I may have to be a barrier; at other times I may have to go on the attack (legally and morally). With children not dealing with handicaps, the workload eases after eighteen or so years as the kids gain independence. But with children dealing with developmental disabilities, the time frame is much longer and possibly lasts a lifetime. Of course, the ultimate goal is for all of us to get to heaven.
One more vital point, the reality of a Church teaching that is too often neglected in today’s world. We are all living in the middle of a battlefield. It is unlike the killing fields of Cambodia or Nineveh but no less lethal. Satan and his army are arrayed against God and His angels. Each time he causes one of us to choose against God, he marks another victory. As the head of our family, we answer the call of duty by showing the way that leads to eternal life.
This requires a warrior’s mindset, where you are prepared to lay down your life down for your wife and children. If that sounds extreme, look about in our world and see the carnage wreaked by fatherless homes. Many of the children diagnosed with emotional disabilities are in that state because of AWOL fathers.
It is well past time to change that. The content of these articles will encourage the reader to work to bring about that change, not just for the most vulnerable but for all.
Copyright© Dennis McGeehan