Throughout the childhood and adolescence of any child there are many different kinds of milestones, transitions and rites of passage, many changes that come along, but for families of children with additional needs these can provide many opportunities for unhealthy comparison and a realisation of difference, which can sometimes be so difficult and painful.
Milestones might include developmental ones like learning to crawl, stand and walk; developing speech and communication; learning to ride a scooter or a bike. Milestones might also include changes as our child develops, such as puberty or reaching adulthood.
Transitions include big changes like starting nursery, then school; changing classes, schools, or moving from a mainstream school to a special school; maybe moving into higher education which might mean leaving home; moving into supported living as a young adult.
Rites of passage can be many and various but can include faith based events to welcome a child into the community or to recognise their faith; school based events such as the school prom, important exams, or graduation; life events such as a first boy/girl friend or going away on holiday without parents for the first time.
Many of these milestones, transitions and rites of passage can be fraught for all families, but for families of children with additional needs they can also be a time of significant worry and often sadness as our child is once again shown to be different to what society understands as ‘normal’. We can make unhealthy comparisons and get thrown back into that cycle of grief that so many families can experience.
My own son, James, was 18 last summer and because of his various additional needs the path of a ‘typical’ 18-year-old was never going to be one that James would take. I have long since understood this, and love James for who he is, but when in August there was news coverage of 18-year-olds celebrating their A-Level results, jumping excitedly in the air and looking forward to heading to University, I realised that in a different world that might have been James, and it caught me for a moment. Did James mind that he didn’t have A-Levels? No, he has no concept of them. It was me that was affected, me that temporarily felt a profound sense of loss, before I realised what unhealthy comparison was once again doing to me and chose to stop.
A few moments later James’ laughter filled the room as something delighted him and the cloud was lifted. I don’t need to make comparisons, I can celebrate with James for who he is, all that he brings to us, all that we have learned by James being a part of our family, all that is different and better about us because of James. He doesn’t need a bit of paper to earn our love, he has it unconditionally. He has his own personal milestones, transitions and rites of passage on his own life journey, and we’re right there alongside him, helping him through them or celebrating them with him whenever and however they come along.
So when that TV advert comes on and the opera singer uses the catchphrase “Go Compare!”, I look at James, smile, and think to myself, why would I, he’s just right as he is!
I hope you can do the same for your child too.
Header image © GOCO Group Plc; text and other photo’s © Mark Arnold
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