Promoting Capacity

I’m a firm believer in being sensibly unrealistic. This cherished gem of wisdom was deposited deep in my heart by internationally renowned Michael Kendrick. Embracing this concept grounds parents of children with disabilities and feeds our souls. Viewing our loved one’s lives through the lens of being sensibly unrealistic nurtures capacity and fosters possibility. And the goal? It’s securing a life of belonging and contribution for sons and daughters, of whom society expects very little.

Being sensibly unrealistic acknowledges obvious realities, while recognizing that everyone has the capacity to stretch when given opportunities, encouragement and support. Yet, daring to venture in the direction of one’s dreams is readily questioned and challenged when a child has a disability.

Recently, a young friend encountered the barbed term lower your expectations. It was applied to her child who had just started grade one. Carelessly and casually tossed, the term plants a toxic seed of doubt to wobbly parents. The idea is espoused routinely by credentialled experts in the system. What a devastating introduction to 12 years of public schooling! Her well-intentioned friend who works in the education system naively told this young mother that the educator just needs to use a different term. As if wordsmithing takes away the hurt and underlying message of devaluation.

Negative messages routinely pummel parents who challenge society’s low expectations and actively pursue ordinary pathways of learning and living. It’s no secret that life lacks a level playing field for its citizens. What’s not readily acknowledged is that parents, more than professionals, are acutely aware of the daily hurdles their sons and daughters with disabilities face on their life journeys. Courageous parents, such as my young friend dare to challenge systems, despite the wounds. It’s this universal practice of dreaming, seizing opportunities and taking risks that leads to personal growth and fulfillment. At least that’s how my life has played out. How about yours?

Susan Dunnigan

October 2021