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Free to soar

April 11, 2017
Maria Smaldo Spencer , MOV Parent

Speechless is a family comedy in which one of the main characters is a person with cerebral palsy. His muscles limit his movement and he is unable to use his mouth to speak. He uses a wheelchair for mobility and a communication board to speak. In a recent episode, the mother in the show is upset with the father because he allowed their son to participate in an adapted physical sport, in which he suffered a few bruises afterward. The father poignantly tells his wife, as she is trying to make her case that he shouldn't participate because he could get hurt says, " There is a whole world full of people that will tell him what he can't do-that is covered-it's our job to tell him otherwise."

So many times on this journey, we want our hearts to take over and make all the decisions. I've found, over time, that allowing our hearts to lead in every single circumstance isn't necessarily helpful to our children with disabilities. We want to go into mama and papa bear mode and protect them as much as possible. Of course, protecting is a natural parent instinct, but when you are raising a child with different abilities, you have to find a place within yourself to allow them to soar in their own way. Sure, we encourage all of our kids to dream and make mistakes along the way to learn from, but when our child's condition limits them in some way, we must do this at an earlier age, and must check ourselves on a regular basis. We have to be mindful of the things we are saying over them and/or allowing them to do.

This huge responsibility we have comes without instruction-we have to take notes as we go. We take the good with the bad, and become stronger with each victory. Through it all, I've learned that because our kids have to learn things that other children do naturally, we have to allow them to try things that we may or may not have had our typical kids try.

When my daughter was three years old, I knew sending her to preschool was what was best for her; in order for her to get the services she needed to make progress.

My mind understood the facts, but my heart wanted to shield her for a little while longer. At first, I wanted her to just go one or two days a week, because in my mind I was thinking, "I didn't send her older brother to school this young, so why would I send her?" It took weeks of speaking to professionals and other parents to finally convince me that it was in her best interest. I wanted to stay in mama bear protection mode and just keep her home, but she needed more. I realized within the first month of her attending preschool, it was the best thing for her. She was surrounded by typical and non-typical peers and staff that encouraged her daily to do all the things she was capable of doing-even if there were a few bruises along the way.

My prayer for you this month is that you will rejoice in all of the things that your child is able to do-and even when you want to shield him or her from things-you will set them free to soar.

I promise you'll be happy you did.

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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