Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coping with Major Challenges

After publishing one of my last posts, I got an e-mail from a friend letting me know that her newborn son had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. It got me to thinking about what I've written so far and hoping that those who read this blog don't perceive my thoughts as flippant or trite, especially when applying the ideas to difficult challenges. I believe we all have difficult things in our lives, in one form or another. Some are more visible than others, but we all have struggles and challenges that we face. Just because we have them doesn't mean we can't seek the positive in our situation and not find something. In fact, in order to cope and live with our particular challenges, I think we have to seek the positive or we might become absolutely miserable. Even when faced with things like the death of a loved one, disabilities, or chronic illness, I still believe there are ways to continue living positively.

Now, I don't mean that by looking for the positive that we should ignore or discount our challenges in a way that is neglectful of our responsibilities or that reject the reality of our situation. In fact, I think we need to accept certain realities of our situation so we can work to find solutions rather than wallowing in what might have been. We can waste a lot of time and energy wishing for something different. Instead, I think we should allow ourselves to grieve for what might have been lost and then face what comes as positively as we can.

Let me see if I can show what I mean with a personal example. My son, D, is a bright, intelligent, caring boy. He started reading when he was three and has a fantastic memory for things he sees and hears. He is very kind and wants to be good and do good. He is also easily distracted. He will go to do one thing and forget along the way and do something else. He has a hard time sitting still and is easily bored. He likes to repeat the same phrase several times if you don't acknowledge him right away. He sometimes invades others' personal space. If he is interested in something, it is difficult to get his attention. He seems hypersensitive at times to touch and sound. In fact, he is a lot like his father at that age.

In my efforts to better understand my son and my husband, I've learned that these traits are highly heritable, almost the same as height. I've also learned that there are biological causes for these behaviors. His actions are not due to a lack of willpower, laziness, or disobedience, but his brain's difficulty in regulating the activity of certain systems. There are many strategies to work around this (and even correct it somewhat) and we are implementing some and researching for more. This is one of the main reasons why we have chosen to teach our children at home. We want to tailor their education to their specific learning styles and interests so they will continue to enjoy learning as they get older.

"So what?" you might say. (That's what I've been saying to myself for a week now, so let's see if I can finish this and say what I want to say. :) )

Well, I've come to recognize that I'll have to spend more time teaching him certain things like planning, following routines, and staying on task. I'll have to be more patient with his development in those areas because the latest research suggests that children with these traits may have a developmental lag of, on average, three years in the part of the brain that controls things like planning, attention, and judgment. I may have to spend more time explaining his behaviors to family, friends, and teachers so they can understand and help him.

I could spend time wishing that my son didn't have these traits. I could just ignore his challenges and hope they might change on their own. However, what would be the point? God has blessed me with my son the way he is for His reasons, all of which I don't know. Some I think I have figured out, like that planning and organization are things that I enjoy and excel at doing, to a fault sometimes. :) Besides, if I were to ignore my son's challenges and not do my best to understand him, I would not be fulfilling the responsibility that God gave me to help my son become the man he needs to be.

I have also learned things that will make learning interesting for all my children. I've had to evaluate what is most important in learning and life, so I can spend my limited resources and energy teaching what is most important instead of being distracted by little things. I've learned (and continue to learn) that God gave me my children and that He doesn't expect me to do it by myself, that He is there to help me and give me what I need to teach all my children. I'm learning to have more compassion and understanding of others' challenges and am less quick to judge.

I guess my point is that although I have challenges and circumstances that aren't easily solved or changed, there are positive things that have happened to me as a result. As I choose to seek the positive in this situation, it doesn't mean that I always remember the positive things and that I don't get tired, frustrated, or discouraged. I do have down times, but when I remember and look for the positive things, especially that I have a Father in Heaven on whom I can rely to help me, things look better and I can keep going.