Giving is not about what we receive in return, and ought to be without expectation.
That which we are blessed to receive, however, is worth cherishing.
Advice I believe is great for everyone, regardless of circumstances…
As someone who has the honor to work with children and adults with disabilities, I can safely say I have never found a more motivational set of individuals. In spite of sometimes substantial adversity, I watch them not only push their limitations, but sometimes also overcome them entirely. I believe it is absolutely crucial to focus on the positive – the unique talents, interests, and abilities of each individual – and to downplay the weaknesses.
Now, that’s not to say we can’t recognize areas that need improvement – whether for ourselves or another individual, we need to know what in our lives and development needs some TLC (or flat-out hard work!) However, making a point to emphasize our abilities is a surefire way to keep us in the most positive head space possible. When facing some of life’s challenges, a great attitude will make all the difference.
The other day at a volunteer session, a mother was inquiring about activities for her daughter, including Martial Arts – beyond autism, her child has been through surgeries to correct club foot and other impairments to the feet and lower extremities. The doctor was trying to steer her clear of many activities and yet…here was this young lady actually running around. I spoke to the mother, making clear I have no medical background (but a lifetime’s worth as an athlete), and explained that sports can be modified. So long as we have the proper instructor who is aware of our challenges, there is no reason that many more sports could be available to her than suggested.
For example, this young lady was able to participate in ballet to some degree. I watched her not only walk briskly in our gymnasium, but also run at times, further confirming that she has a great deal more ability that it appears she is (externally) being credit for. I encouraged the mother to look into specific Marital Art programs, and to not be discouraged by the “can’t do”s. As Stephen Hawking alludes to, to handicap ourselves mentally can be incredibly damaging – we needn’t add to our own, or another’s physical difficulties.
The truth of it is, we all have strengths, weaknesses, injuries and physical limitations. In the majority of cases, we all have some mental challenges as well – low self-esteem, insecurity, self-doubt to name a few. To focus on what IS possible, and what we ARE able to do can make a massive difference in the quality of our lives overall, as well as contribute to our success in our activities, careers, and relationships.
Focusing on our strengths not only helps us to weather the working-on-our-weaknesses better, but also the ups and downs of life. It gives us the strength and courage to carry forward, to makes strides in spite of anxiety or fear, and to find happiness, fulfillment and success in spite of tipped scales. The sky is the limit when we have the right attitude. Period.
Whether I accomplish it successfully or not, I aim for this every day with family, friends, and strangers alike. While I know I neither have the right, nor power necessarily, to make things “better” for people, I still hold onto the hope (not so secretly) that I can at least help someone along the way find the good, the positive, and the beauty where they may not have seen it before.
I received this note along with a purchase I made on eBay and it absolutely warmed my heart. I’d say “what are the odds?!” but then I really do believe the Universe finds away to align things for the good…
I wrote this lovely woman a note in return to let her know her words fell into loving hands, and to offer words of support…which she so readily deserves. She is hoping to help her son “chase his dreams” to which I said how blessed he is to have her, and that as a team they will succeed.
I then shared this Audrey Hepburn quotation:
The world is made a much smaller and warmer place when kind hearts lead the way.
I have the honor to volunteer with many children with autism and there are some things that just go with the territory (aside from the fact that I’m always smiling – they light me up every time! 🙂 )
Many of the children I have the joy to work with like to bring personal items along with them to play time (or wear something they love.) We typically don’t allow them to bring toys from home, heaven forbid something is lost in the shuffle – the organization I work with has a TON of toys for the children to play with, so outside items could easily disappear.
Still, when they really WANT to bring something (for example, little felt pieces in the shape of animals) chances are a mountain will be made into a molehill by not going with the flow. Trying to separate them from a comfortable “known” can be a lot more trouble than it’s worth and frankly, at the end of the day, there’s nothing at all wrong with that (particularly in a less frequented environment.)
We do, however, have to keep a sharp eye out so that they also go home with everything they brought along!
I’ve been taking a graduate course in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over the last few months and I’ve loved it so much more than I can say. Having been out of the school circuit for 17 years, it’s definitely been eye-opening across the board! But nothing beats the feeling of learning more about ASD and other pervasive developmental diseases – I’ve truly found my passion, and am ever eager to apply what I learn to my volunteer work with children, teens, and adults of varying disabilities.
In a recent discussion we talked about idioms – a type of “language” that we all use without really thinking about it. Neither, therefore, do many of us consider the implications on individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities and delays. As I prepared for the discussion, I realized that I couldn’t think of any I had used “off the top!” Sure enough, as I snooped about online, I discovered I use quite a few. For example:
All ears It takes two to tango
Blessing in disguise Method to the madness
Chomp at the bit Not playing with a full deck
Cry over spilt milk Off his rocker
Curiosity killed the cat Once in a blue moon
Devil’s advocate Over the moon
Silver lining Piece of cake
Hit the hay Speak of the devil
Hit the nail on the head Take it with a grain of salt
My classmates also came up with a hefty array of phrases, many of which I hear or say myself (“I lost my marbles!” comes to mind. 🙂 ) In combination with meticulous observation of my own idiom usage (for the purposes of this assignment) I found that I say them with relative frequency in every day speech. . .as does just about everyone around me. The funny thing is that I actually had to look up examples – using idioms is so much a part of our language that I wasn’t even aware. This sentiment was, as it turns out, shared by my classmates…
Having learned throughout my course that individuals with ASD often take language literally – truly at its face value – I am now far more attentive to my verbal language when communicating with them. Paired with deficits in social skillsets (such as joint attention, inability to read body language, verbal tone, cues and so forth), the literal translation of idioms could pose a substantial challenge during interaction. Our course has touched on the multitude of challenges that children with ASD face in the realm of communication (which includes a lot more than just “verbal language.”) The point has also been made that it isn’t always obvious to an outsider that someone with ASD won’t understand conversation, as some have a large (and impressive!) vocabularies.
I recall once saying (prior to my class, in a volunteer capacity) “you could be a pro!” to a child with ASD kicking a soccer ball. He asked what I meant and I realized that I didn’t say “professional soccer player,” which is what I needed to express in order for him to understand my meaning. While not an idiom per se, the language was not complete – an abbreviation I took for granted was not clear to him. This experience was eye-opening and I realized I needed to up my awareness when conversing with an individual with ASD. It is not at all a matter of intelligence – I find many to be incredibly bright…and they are! – more that I need to recognize the common trait of taking words exactly as spoken. I myself have a tendency to read into what I hear, sometimes taking comments as literal and serious.
Despite that English is my only fluent language, I always loved learning foreign languages in school. I remember purchasing books that offered slang and street French / Italian (even Latin!) so that I could perhaps utilize the language in the way native speakers do…or at least follow their conversation. Slang and idioms are a HUGE part of a culture’s social structure – they are thrown around with such frequency that not understanding them can pose a substantial language barrier as well as, at worst, flat-out social isolation. Think about learning a new language in school, then being immersed in that culture. The stream of communication of someone native to the language will be riddled with idioms – we all do it! We might then find ourselves saying, “what do you mean?” just like the child with ASD asked me.
This is a massive task for teachers because there are infinite ways in which idioms may present, and there are in the order of twenty-five thousand in English alone. (Wikipedia, as retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiom ) We read an article written by Temple Grandin earlier in the course and she mentioned how she has to mentally retrieve visuals and concrete memories based on previous experiences to know how to respond appropriately in social situations – what a daunting task! When we study a specific technique in Ninjutsu (a current Martial Art of mine) we sometimes discuss that the founders of the Art did not always teach a follow-up submission or takedown with it – the reasoning was that there are so many permutations, the task would not only be overwhelming, but students would be trying to remember far too many combinations (diverting attention from the more important fundamentals.) Way to go, Temple, for mastering that ability!
In the case of language, however, not learning idiomatic expressions will absolutely leave a child at a disadvantage – out of the realm in which peers and others knowledgeable about their disabilities (and therefore able to accommodate), an individual with ASD may be left bewildered by the normal conversational style of society. Again, as above, potentially leading to isolation and less opportunity for interactions (which also means less practice!)
Teaching generalization is vital for the individuals, and I do think key idioms must be addressed. That all said, I think that a learning program must – as all instruction – be highly specific, and tailored to the individual with ASD. If he or she is at a level at which more can be mentally digested, perhaps more idioms can be taught – but I sincerely believe that core fundamentals of are crucial, and must – as an order of operations – be learned before attempting to master more descriptive, idiomatic expressions. (I did see, per the below, a plethora of visual representations of idioms, which would be a perfect way to introduce them to children with ASD!)
Every aspect of life is a journey and I suppose that’s the fun of it – nothing remains static and we always have the opportunity to grown and learn. As we get older we are often bombarded with the idea that we have to be young, have to portray that image, or that it is simply too late. None of that is true – there is so much beauty in getting older, and it is absolutely never – ever – too late to try, learn, do something new…especially when that “something” makes your soul glow or your heart beat.
I spent a long time in industries that I was, perhaps, “meant”…but not “destined”…for. While life ebbs and flows, and is indeed rife with ah-ha moments along the way, I’ve realized that I just had a monumental epiphany. And that’s not only okay, but amazing…
I didn’t question my work in fashion – I’d loved so many aspects of the industry from early childhood that it made sense that I was heading that direction. No matter we all thought I was primarily left-brained, I was incredibly drawn to the arts, performing sports, to fashion, to photography, makeup artistry – they were worlds so colorful and captivating that I sort of just “knew” that’s the broad arena in which I’d eventually land. That said, my pedigree was – finally – to the contrary. I did a double major in International Business and Marketing, not exactly the design and creative background required for a position in Product Development. But, what I lacked in typical education, I made up for with enthusiasm and a no-bullshit work ethic.
I suppose throughout it all, I always had a feeling that something was missing – I didn’t have a name for the sensation, nor did I know exactly what, specifically, was absent. I’ve always wanted to do more, be more, achieve more, so I believe I attributed the growing hollowness to that.
But, it wasn’t.
The truth is, life for me is vastly more magical than it isn’t – I will always strive to be better each day, in every aspect of my life, and I will always have goals and aspirations. So that sense of still seeking fulfillment might be there…but after having had more recent revelations, I’m willing to bet it will die down a bit.
I began working with children on a whim many years ago as an instructor in Karate – I wanted to get out of my home town (not to escape an increasingly prosaic routine, but to evade one person, of all things) and this amazing gift, so aptly timed, just fell into my lap. I initially contacted the Sensei in effort to learn new Arts – my background was in the Korean Arts of Hapkido and Taekwondo. Despite my lack of knowledge (or experience) in his Japanese styles, he welcomed me warmly, and with sincere enthusiasm. In seeing my passion for Martial Arts in general, and, I imagine, my personality, he encouraged me to stick around and teach. Game changer.
I realized at that moment both the responsibility I was given, and that I was in the unbelievably fortunate position to offer inspiration to these children. You never know when such moments of motivation and revelation may occur. Knowing that I could provide a strong role model, not only by means of a physically active body, but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, was a gift to be valued.
I was, and still am, more of the disciplinarian – it is incredibly important to me that the children enjoy their time at the Dojo (why bother otherwise?!) But it is also a place in which we discuss and learn core values – how to treat one another, the meaning of respect, responsibility, healthy living, honesty, courage, integrity… It isn’t just about how we control our own bodies and space, but how we affect others around us in a physical way, and beyond. Our attitude matters. In some cases, we are reinforcing what is taught at home. In others, however, we are providing a framework and structure that they child is not exposed to elsewhere – a framework that hopefully will help them blossom and embrace life fully, challenges notwithstanding.
I’ve continued working with children in Martial Arts simply because I love to do it – I appreciate the opportunity to instill positive values, to encourage and nudge potential, to lead by example, and to help the children develop important life skills. Along the way, however – and frankly I don’t even recall the impetus – I began to look into working with Special Needs children. The opportunities for children with disabilities is far less, and as a huge proponent of physical fitness, I realized I needed to be out there helping kids who are often denied the chance.
By some great fortune there is a volunteer organization in my state that offers the kinds of hands-on activities I was looking for – they serve children with varying disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, ADHD, apraxia, and others. None is so severe on the spectrum that they must reside in full-time facilities, but depending on the child, there might be some aggression, or major athleticism (as in, the “runners” who are hard to keep at one’s side!) For me, though, that’s the fun of it – each child is different, and with my background in Martial Arts training and instructing, I feel very comfortable taking on the toughies.
My time with these children has been relegated to my 39th year of life (and some of my 38th) – my path managed to diverge rather drastically in some way, but I feel suddenly so much more aligned. While it is not currently my profession to work with children with disabilities, I have made it my mission to find ways to help. I have purchased several books to begin self-educating myself, and have reached out to others in the field whom I know are both honest and passionate. It is in so many ways the beginning of a new journey for me, but life has a way of doing that…
Life presents us with opportunities along the way if only we remain open to them. When we listen to what our hearts are truly saying in between the beats, we allow a magic we may not have known existed the opportunity to unfold. The gifts you will receive will be priceless…