How many parents are their childís legs when they canít walk, their voice when they canít speak, their ears when they canít listen, their hands when they canít write, their eyes when they canít read, their best friend when they have no friends, their shield when they have no defense, and see the best in them when others only see the worse? How many parents in a heart beat, have repeatedly placed themselves in harms way? Ignoring their childís yelling and screaming (which leaves their ears ringing), the spitting, the kicking, the hitting, the scratching and biting (which draws their own blood). Parents who frantically tried to restrain their child, while desperately trying to protect their childís head by sacrificing their own body. Parents who faced the horror of their childís self-destructive suicidal rage cycle that left both child and parent crumpled in a heap on the floor, physically exhausted and emotionally devastated. Time healed the physical wounds, but the emotional scars stay with you forever. How many parents, in order to just survive, learned enough about medications to work in a pharmacy, learned enough about psychiatry to work in a clinic, learned enough about educational law to be a law office paralegal, and learned enough about school district policy to be on the school board? How many parents have been called so often by the school to come pickup their child that they are now sensitized whenever the phone rings in the middle of the day? Between the first ring and when they pickup the receiver, dozens of scenarios run through their heads about what has gone wrong. Ironically the call may not even be from the school. How many parents learn not all schools are created equal? Some schools that focus on test scores with an inflexible "one size fits all" and "drill and kill" approach may not be an appropriate fit. Schools where the kids, teachers, and administration show compassion, understanding, and flexibility maybe just the environment where their child can thrive. How many parents have not been able to find an appropriate school and thus have put their own lives and careers on hold, or even sacrificed them, in order to provide their child with an enriching and supportive home environment free from abuse? How many parents have the tremendous courage to allow their child to fail, going against every instinct, against every fiber of their being, in order to demonstrate their child will be left behind if appropriate school accommodations and services are not provided? How many parents can give and give and give and give even more, and yet, never receive anything in return because their child lives in their own little egocentric isolated world? How many parents suffered the unbelievable cruelty of comments from friends and family about the poor behavior of their child or their poor parenting skills, when these well meaning friends and family donít really understand what it takes to parent a special needs child? Comments that felt like a hot poker just pierced their already battered and abused heart and self-esteem. How many parents found the inner strength to pull themselves out of the deepest, darkest hole of frustration, depression, and loss, in order to fight another day, because the light leading the way for a better future may flicker and dim, but refuses to die? How many parents experienced the heartache of seeing their child struggle tying their shoelaces and a minute later be totally baffled and awed when the same child comments; the question isnít if the chicken or egg came first, but the plant or the seed? Or have kids who spend most of their time in resource rooms, special day classes, or sitting in the principalís office and still score 99% across the board on standardized tests? How many parents have the pleasure of working side by side with remarkable teachers and administrators who fight the same fight as you do, who do it for the love of the job, but are faced with a fixed budget, or worse yet a shrinking budget, while the population of special needs kids continues to grow and grow? How many parents experience the knowledge, caring, and loving found within local and cyber support groups where information is freely shared, where mutual respect is never questioned, where fellow members will come to your defense with the passion of a 'mother bear," where you can turn to when it appears all hope is lost, and where you were made to laugh when you so desperately wanted to cry? How many parents have felt their body shutter and a chill run up their spine, their throat tighten constricting their voice, their heart boom in their chest as if it would explode, and tears well up in their eyes, blinding them as they experience the bittersweet agony and ecstasy of seeing their child experience the little things that come so naturally to other kids, but are truly miraculous for our kids? Such experiences as the first steps (when the child has no legs or lost their use), first words (when a childís mind is trapped in an Autistic world), first story read (when dyslexia makes words constantly move and change), first paper (when dysgraphia makes forming letters painful, slow, and individually), first play date that felt safe (when previously "friends" only teased, bullied, or physically abused), and the first unscripted "
I love you" come from their child. How many parents have learned anyone can love a child who's perfect, somebody who does everything right? But that doesn't stretch your soul. Your soul only gets stretched when you can still love somebody after they hurt you. [Susan Phillips] How many parents truly understand the pain it caused, the cost incurred, the heroic efforts it took, and at the same time, the joy it brought to unconditionally love their special child and demonstrate that love through actions, not just words, in the past, during the present, and forever in the future? How many parents learned the painful lesson? One voice will not be heard, two voices may get their attention, but only the voice of many will enact change. The voice whose message will be heard loud and clear. The voice whose wishes will not be denied! So take my hand and join me on this greatest of all journeys and I promise, TOGETHER WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Finally, how many parents have been applauded for their parenting skills, their efforts, their strength, their courage, and their dedication; the best humanity has to offer? [Authorís note: this is where I begin to clap]