The shy sister of emotions, gratitude is easily forgotten. Overshadowed by bolder emotions, gratitude hangs back. Acknowledgement is key to finding its voice. We’ve all heard someone boldly announce that experience with disability has enriched their life. But rarely do people engage. Typical observer reactions include feet shuffling, polite smiling and changing the subject. People are uncomfortable and perplexed. Let’s look at why.

There is a huge disconnect between public impressions of disability and personal realities. The word itself reflects society’s entrenched negative bias—disability. Conceiving the possibility of gratitude requires adopting a non-judgemental stance to human existence. By nature, all gratitude is fluid and sometimes fleeting. Any marriage and long-term relationship can attest to that. So why should we expect it to be any different when dealing with disability?

Raising a child with a developmental disability is clearly an arduous journey. Families pursuing inclusion face a particularly rocky path, marked by spectacular peaks and valleys. Dark skies, skepticism, minefields and rays of sunshine share that path. Gems of learning hide under heavy boulders along the way. The gem of gratitude invites families to examine its worth and soak up its emotional nourishment.

It’s important to note that gratitude is not directly linked to the disability. Rather, gratitude springs from insights gleaned while walking the path with someone who society devalues. The treasure lies in everyday experiences and insights about capacity, humanity, belonging and resilience. These powerful lessons guide the way forward.

The experience of disability has significantly challenged and strengthened our family. But it is my son who mirrors our lessons best. He walks his own path, turns for support as he sees fit and has the confidence to carry on without me when I’m gone. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

Susan Dunnigan

October 2022