So, I'm finally reading it. I first became aware of it from Beth's blog, and then Jen's, and now it seems as though a lot of fellow blogging parents are reading it. If you haven't, you should.
It's not like any other book out there on the subject of disability. It's not an informational book about any particular disability or condition, or disabilities and conditions in general. It's not a memoir by a parent with a child with a disability (although the author, Kathie Snow, does have a son who has cerebral palsy). It's not a reference manual on how to help our kids achieve gross motor, fine motor, or communication skills.
So what is it? It's a big, giant (a little over 600 pages!) book about breaking out of "Disability World."
I'm not quite 100 pages into it at this point, but it's already impacting me to a huge degree. I'm making my way through it wielding a yellow highlighter.
"[Disability] Labels are like double-edged swords, however. They cut both ways. The same labels that enable our children to receive services also lead our children down the path to segregation and exclusion. Our children are routinely judged (usually negatively) based solely on their labels."
I remember very clearly being visited in the NICU when Finn was there by a social worker who came to get Finn "into the system" because he had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. She unemotionally told me about Regional Center, and PT, and OT, and ST, and how Finn would need therapy, beginning as soon as possible, as I sat there and cried. She was not moved by my tears. I remember asking her, "Is all that really necessary?" She said something to the effect of, "Don't you want him to be the best he can be? Then yes, he'll need to go to baby school." This determination was not made on anything having to do with Finn personally, as an individual. It was made based solely on his diagnosis.
I remember thinking to myself, "If I take him home and ignore the diagnosis and just treat him like a normal baby, won't that make it so?" I realize now that that wish of mine was steeped in the grief I was feeling at that time. I wanted more than anything for Finn to just not have Ds. But on some level, the wish has stuck with me. Not in a denial sense, but . . . a realization on some level that if our family treats him as a baby or child with a disability, then that's exactly who and what he'll be. I realize Finn has limitations, but don't we all? What is "normal"? Who is perfect? Can't we do best by Finn by treating him just like we treat our other kids - of course taking into account his own personal talents and hindrances, just like we do the other kids?
More food for thought:
"One group of experts has shared the belief that retardation is actually caused by the environment. When people with an MR label are forced into segregated settings, treated like children, and prevented from living the lives of their choice, they are in 'retarding environments.' They're prevented from learning and growing because of the restrictive settings they inhabit. To which group [of experts] can we attribute this profound wisdom? The top experts in the disability field: young men and women who have been told they have mental retardation. What does mental retardation really mean? It simply means a person's cognitive abilities may develop differently than the so-called norm."
Wow. Definitely something to mull over, don't you think?
And here's a gratuitous photo of something Finn showed me today that he can do: feed himself a cracker, all by himself. I've been stressing a little over the fact that he's really not self-feeding. But he's showing me, once again, that he'll do things in his own time. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with him. He's got his own timeline, that's all.
I bring this up because therapy is a big theme in Disability is Natural. Does it help or hinder? It's easy to see how it can help. And there is no denying that the various therapies available today do help children who have disabilities. But hinder? Hmmmm. Looked at from another perspective, can it also be viewed as something that fosters separation, division, emphasizing a child's differences and even weaknesses?
I will say that I have found myself torn about therapy over and over of late. I honestly can't sit here and say with complete sincerity that I believe the therapy Finn has received has made a huge difference in his development. That cracker he fed himself tonight? That wasn't because Andres, his OT, taught him how to eat a cracker. He was just ready to do it, that's all. And I really believe the same about sitting, crawling, and all that. And rolling over - Finn began rolling over at three and a half weeks old! All by himself. Nobody taught him how to do that. Having known Finn for a good solid year + now, I see a pattern: he does things when he's ready, and for the most part, he's perfectly capable of figuring out stuff all by himself. That's not to say that he won't need extra help in certain areas over the course of his life - but more and more, I am rejecting the idea that he must live under this label of DISABLED.
I have far to go in the book and expect to have lots more to say in the coming days/weeks. For now, I'll close with this:
"Your belief in your child and his potential has a greater influence over his success than his disability."