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They Are Watching

May 9, 2016
Maria Smaldino Spencer , MOV Parent

As special parents, we think we have to constantly be "in mode." We think we have to continually be working towards some kind of goal. Finding something that will help our child seems to always be on the forefront of our minds. At times, it seems to be the only thing we can think about. We do our research, ask questions and make sure they have what they need at home and school. In the midst of this "survival mode," we don't even realize that our kids are watching. They are watching and learning from all that we are doing for them. Regardless of their ability to communicate, they are taking it all in, and processing it in their own way.

In the beginning of this process, we enter survival mode with great fervor and energy. We often think the more services our kids are getting, the better off they will be. So we drive them everywhere and try everything, with the hopes that if we try and do more, they will reach their goals quicker. But what we don't realize is that they are sponges; they hear and feel everything that is going on, and they are taking it all in. We need to remember to take that in to account and listen to their opinion of all that we are trying to do for them. Even if they aren't communicating with words, their actions are continually telling us something.

Since I've been on this journey for thirteen years, I can tell you that this is all part of the decision making processes. We have to make decisions daily that may affect our child in the future, and in the moment, we feel we are making decisions that are positive. Special parenthood doesn't come with instructions-we allow ourselves to be led by our hearts-and we learn as we go.

My prayer this month is that you will be mindful of the fact that through each leg of the journey, your child is watching and is giving you feedback. Trust your decisions, and your ability to follow your child's lead.

I've always been the special mom that is very realistic about the future. Of course I have always hoped and dreamed big for my daughter's future, but no matter what therapy we were trying, I have always been honest and up front with her, explaining things as we go. Even when I was unsure about my most recent decision to try something, I have always been direct when describing her differing abilities to her. In doing this on a consistent basis, my goal was that she could speak confidently for herself regarding her abilities, even in my absence. Through the years, it was difficult to gauge whether my attempts to empower her and make her able to stand up for herself were actually sinking in.

Until recently.

She decided, all on her own, that she wanted to join the middle school track team. Given the fact that she didn't walk until she was two years old, and we hoped and prayed she would have the ability to balance herself to actually run, this was huge for us. We encouraged her (even though it was scary,) and have been so proud that this was her decision, not ours. So, in the midst of my special parent decision making doubts, she texted me after a school meeting regarding track. She went to this meeting with just her peers, I was not there to speak for her. Her words were, "I went to the track meeting and I told the coach about my disability and that I may have to take more breaks than the other kids."

I cried tears of joy as I read the words. I later explained to her how proud I was that she was able to speak for herself, and that she did it without hesitation. She has been watching and learning after all.

Remember that your child is continually learning from you. Regardless of what your child's different abilities are, he or she is watching and taking in each new intervention that you decide to try. Because you were chosen for your unique special parent path, trust that as you make each decision, your heart is leading you in the right direction. Be mindful of this in your day to day walk, and in his or her own extraordinary way, your child will be your guide.

Maria Smaldino Spencer is a special mom, special needs consultant and a center supervisor administrator at CDI Head Start of Mahoning County in Youngstown. Contact her at



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