Maybe some of you are like me. Raised in a Christian home where I often felt defined by what I didn’t do.
- Don’t lie,
- Don’t swear,
- Don’t steal,
- Don’t cheat, and
- Don’t hang around other boys who do.
To no surprise, I found that in my early years of parenting two boys with severe autism that I had been guilty of spending more time on the “dont’s“ than the “do’s.” I spent more time catching my sons doing the things that I did not want them to do. Catching them doing what I considered the “wrong” things:
- Flapping their hands,
- Playing with toys in a nonfunctional way,
- Repetitively watching the same video segment over and over
There were so many behaviors due to their autism that I didn’t want them to do. If I had a dollar for every time I said, “Don’t _____!” I’d have enough money to afford out-of-pocket respite care every week for a year!
Months later I remember sitting down and reading my Bible. I came across this verse:
- “Finally, my friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, …whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil.4:8)
Wow! God, through the apostle Paul was encouraging me to live by the “praise principle.”
Looking back, I could see that I didn’t do such a good job with this. That’s not to say that the skill deficits that sometimes go along with a child with special needs don’t deserve attention…they do! However, that verse made me realize that I spent way too much time criticizing rather than praising. Too much time focused on what wasn’t happening versus what was happening.
That day I decided that:
“I can’t let the things that my child doesn’t do…define who he is!”
When it comes to your child with special needs, what do you look for? Do you only notice the lack of skills or what is “wrong?” Or do you take the time to catch the things your child does well?
How do you break a negative, nit-picking cycle that sometimes occurs in parenting a child with special needs? Answer:
Determine what you choose to focus on.
Have you heard the story of the farmer who was discouraged with his farm? He decided to sell out and move somewhere else. He engaged a realtor to look the farm over and prepare a sales ad. But before putting it in the paper, the realtor called and read the proposed ad to him, saying, “See if this meets with your approval.” The ad spoke of a good location, a well maintained house, sturdy barns, lush pasture lands, a beautiful pond, fertile soil, and a great view.
The farmer listened carefully, & then said, “Read that to me again, slowly.” So the realtor read it to him again. Finally, the farmer said, “No, don’t print that ad. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve always wanted a place like that. I’m not going to sell.”
The lesson: What you pay attention to and what you focus on makes a difference.
That’s the wisdom behind Philippians 4:8.
What would it look like if we parented a generation of kids with special needs who defined themselves by what they did do? What if they were defined by their actions of love, courage, perseverance, generosity, kindness, and faith? What if they were to become a generation who lived in the world and mirrored these Christ-like character qualities not by their words (especially if your child is nonverbal) but by their very lives?
I know that you are probably light-years ahead of where I used to be as a parent. You already make it a habit to focus more on the positive qualities of your child and what s/he can do.
But perhaps you don’t. Perhaps like I did, you focus more on your child’s skill deficits associated with his/her diagnosis.
As parents of children with special needs, let’s make a decision to parent by choosing to focus on what our kids can do and the Christ-like qualities that shine through their lives.
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