25 March 2013

Abigail's Strengths

Thank you all for a very successful World Down Syndrome Day 2013. My blog saw a record-setting amount of traffic, my Facebook was blowing up all day, and the email I sent around caused at least three people to tear up. I can't even count how many people let me know in some way that the way they approach people with specials needs has changed since meeting Abigail or hearing her story. It's flattering and humbling to know that we've touched people. I pray that each year, we can continue to spread awareness, at least a little, until we achieve the ultimate goal of Abigail being Totally Accepted by this culture of death we live in.

I fully plan to step down off my soap box and resume my normal posting topics, and I think today's post will be a good transition back into "normalcy." It deals with special needs, but also with daily life.

You see, on Friday, we had one of those meetings. So during therapy all week, the therapists have been doing evaluations to type up and pass out at the Sucky Meeting. Abigail's occupational therapist, after finishing up the eval, asked me to name Abigail's strengths. I paused, baffled. Her strengths? I don't know, all we ever seem to do is talk about what she needs to improve on. Strengths? I stammered out an answer that would better fit the question, "Describe your daughter in three words." My answer angered me. How could I not even be able to name my daughter's strengths?! Last night, it finally struck me: Abigail's strengths depend on your definition of strength.

Normally questions like that (What is strength?) really piss me off. What a useless discussion to be having: let's define something everyone already knows! We might as be discussing whether or not it will rain on May 18, 3042. So please know that my own question disgusts me. But how we define strength changes what Abigail's are and even whether or not she has any.

I realized that I would say most people define strength as "something you are better at than most people." As much as my family, friends, acquaintances, and society as exposed on reruns of sitcoms on Hulu are an accurate depiction of America, I'm better than most people at crocheting, writing, and I say I have a stronger work ethic. My fine motor skills are above average, but my hand-eye coordination and whatever it's called when you're good at sports, are pretty below average. My social skills, verbal communication skills, and ability to "take it as well as I dish it" are below average.

As far as we define strength as "better than average," Abigail has no strengths. She has been observed, tested, analyzed, and reported on in a very thorough manner, and there is nothing that she is performing at or above her age level. Even in her very best category, she is still functioning at the level of someone two months younger. I suppose we could leave it there - and say that some people have no strengths, only weaknesses, but being her mother, that isn't a very satisfactory answer for me.

But what if instead of comparing ourselves against others, we define strength against ourself? As something "I-don't-fail-at-as-much-as-I-fail-at-other-things." For example, compared to other people, I'd say I'm an average cook. I usually follow recipes, I struggle with certain dishes, but I usually only need 1 or 2 tries to get a new dish right. Compared to how many times it took me to get through Jillian Michael's 6 Week 6 Pack dvd straight through without dying, I'd say cooking is one of my strengths.

If we were to compare Abigail against herself, she has a lot of strengths. She's good at physical activities, imitating me, helping me clean up, putting her shoes on, and helping dress herself. She's good at getting her point across and reading and expressing emotion. Maybe not compared to most 22-month-olds, but compared to her personal batting average, she's a super star in these categories.

I have since realized that Down syndrome and "Keeping up with the Jones" syndrome are mutually exclusive. Having Ds "protects" you from having Jones syndrome because it forces you to stop looking to society to define your value and worth. We all think we are immune, but until I was forced to question my deep-down sense of self, I had no idea how ensnared I was/am. The further I get in this "life with kids" stuff, the more I realize how rich and materialistic our nation is. I understand on a much deeper level now, how hard it truly is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Being rich is like a precursor to Jones syndrome like pre-diabetes is to diabetes.

Having Abigail isn't a cure to Jones syndrome, I have no magic vaccination now, merely, my eyes have been opened to my own faults and weakness. Now comes the long, dramatic battle of trying to overcome them. Overcoming odds? Another one of Abigail's strengths.

1 comment:

onecatholicmama said...

I've always kinda thought of a person's strengths as being things they are better at compared to themselves, while a person's talents are those things they are better at than the average person. The opposite of strength is weakness, and again I think of a person's weaknesses as those skills they struggle with more, not necessarily those things they are worse at than the average person.

After all, comparing someone to the "average" is quite tricky. The average will vary a lot depending on which population you are dealing with.