Usually I try to keep this blog about education and disabilities but I read an article and watched a TED talk that gave me pause to think about the wonder of the Church. At Syracuse University artist and art professor Sam Van Aken has developed the 40 Fruit Tree. He has actually been able to design and create a tree that grows over forty types of stone fruits such as peaches, plums, nectarines, almonds, etc… The process is painstaking and takes 5 years per tree. When his “working tree” is about one he begins grafting a few “chips” or small budded branches from other fruit trees into a small incision on the “working tree” and lets it heal through the winter, then he prunes and cares for the branches as the grow. He continues the process, documenting and color-coding where each branch has been placed. By creating a timeline of when each fruit branch blossoms he is able to create a specific design of color on each tree when it blossoms. The Bible makes many references to Christians being grafted into the vine and being made part of the body of Christ, His Church. Romans 11:19 says, “then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Just like the 40 Fruit Tree Jesus has cut us from our old life and grafted us into His Church our “working tree” What a beautiful array of colors and fruits our gifts, callings, abilities, and cultures are, each branch yielding a different type of fruit and creating a tree that displays so much unity in diversity. We may be different types of fruit (cultures, abilities, and giftings) but we are all stone fruits (our unity in faith in Christ). Like Professor Van Aken carefully crafts, cares, and prunes his trees Jesus likewise cares for and prunes his Church. It is painful and a long process but what an amazingly wondrous tree it creates. Check out the website here http://www.treeof40fruit.com.
I do a lot consulting with parents who have children with disabilities and special needs. I find that more than giving advice on educational programs and interventions parents need counseling and emotional support. I spend a lot of my consultation time listening to the struggles that they are having and trying to be an encouragement to their emotional and spiritual needs. Our culture doesn’t let us share the deep hurts and difficulties we are having, especially if we are leaders in ministry. Many parents want to cry and share their anger and sadness but often feel that they don’t want to be vulnerable or that no one will understand anyway. Friends and family often try to help with advice on what should or should not be done, with the best of intentions, but often may say things that are hurtful, discouraging or uninformed. Parents with special needs children are often isolated. It is difficult to attend social functions, to get out for a date, or to do the daily things that need to be done for their other typical children much less be involved in ministry themselves. Other people often feel uncomfortable around them and pretty soon they stop receiving invitations.
I would exhort people who have family and friends with special needs children to encourage and lift these families up. They may not express the needs they have so here are some ways you can give practical meaningful help.
1. Realize that they may not be able to come to you so make a point of going to them.
2. They need time away so offer to babysit and learn what you can about their child’s needs.
3. No matter how many times they may cancel, turn down an invitation, or have to leave early keep inviting them.
4. Just listen.
5. Pray with them. This is so important. It is wonderful for people to say “I’m praying for you” but it is so meaningful to have someone pray right there with you.
6. Recognize their child as being made in the image of God and treat them like any other child.
7. Be patient with the child’s behvior that is out of the ordinary. Parents often feel embarrassed by this in front of others. This is part of their disability and the child can often not control it. Be helpful if a parent is dealing with difficult behavior while you are with them. If there is nothing you can do, silently pray and wait patiently until the episode is over.
8. Remember that these parents are tired, stressed, concerned for their child, embarrassed at times and feel very left out of normal life.
I hope these suggestions help you to minister to those in your lives who have children with special needs. they are a forgotten group at times so lets lift them up and “supply what is lacking”.
Hello and welcome to my blog site. I want to introduce myself and give a little background about me and what led me into the field of special education. After the first year or so of my life my parents were very concerned about my lack of growth. I was never ill but they noticed that I wasn’t growing at a normal rate and I was very small for my age. I was diagnosed at first with “failure to thrive”, which in retrospect is funny because other than being small I was very healthy. Doctors ran every test they could and in the end they did genetic testing and were shocked to find that I had Mosaic Turner’s Syndrome. Turner’s Syndrome can basically be described as a missing piece of the 23rd chromosome (the sex/gender chromosome) in females. Mosaic Turner’s Syndrome means that only a certain percentage of my cells are affected but not all of them. The reason doctors were surprised was because normally females born with TS have many moderate to sever defects and disabilities such as, asthma, congenital heart defect, no neck, lung problems, maybe some intellectual disabilities, short stature and infertility. The only clue that I had TS was my short stature. Throughout my life though I have always been short I have been incredibly healthy, strong, and academically astute. I used to run and hour everyday, I lift weights, and have excelled in academics.
I never thought of my self as having a disability until I recently. You would never believe the challenges in life that a woman who is very short encounters. My whole life people have teased me, come up with names for me (most of the time good natured), not taken me seriously, tried to intimidate me, and treated me as if I have no voice or much important to say. Reading some research on the subject I discovered that people do indeed have a tendency to subconsciously view short people negatively. Who knew? I have always had to work harder to prove myself and make physical accommodations for most every day tasks. So I understand what it is like to be different and to struggle to fit in to a “normal” world.
One thing that concerns me in the area of disabilities, and I will talk more about this in future posts, is that if prenatal testing had been more advanced and pushed on my mother, as it is today, I may not have been born. My mother probably would have been given a “worst case” scenario about my prognosis and would have been encouraged to terminate her pregnancy. I am living proof that doctors don’t now everything and although you may be able to detect a “possible” genetic anomaly you can never predetermine the extent to which a person my be affected. This issue is where my heart lies, making people aware of the issues surrounding bioethics and disability.
So that is a little bit about my journey into special education and disability issues. I have a special place in my heart for families of individuals with disabilities. In my education practice I spend almost as much time counseling and listening to the struggles of parents as I do working with their children.