When Kate was first born, I remember googling things like: best therapy for Down syndrome, best books for Down syndrome, best schools for Down syndrome, etc. I was in “mama bear” mode—my baby had just been born with something that may give her extra “challenges” and I was determined to help her conquer them.
I read all sorts of things about “being your child’s advocate” and “early intervention is key” and the “first 5 years are the most important” and so on and so on. I had to make a plan—do it now—make it great. I couldn’t miss any opportunity.
However, this eagerness to do, give, provide, find, research, etc. gave me a bit of anxiety early on. How much was enough? Was there ever too much? Were the therapists I was using the BEST I could find? Were the books I was reading the BEST I could read? What was the magic sauce? I needed to know.
And then, I found it. And it made all the difference.
I realized that it’s a sauce that applies to not just parents of children with “special needs”—but to all parents. It’s a secret to unlocking your child’s full potential that has very little to do with advice, experts, well-meaning suggestions, therapy plans and so on. (And don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for the smart, sweet people who help give Kate that extra push—but there is something bigger). It’s bigger than if your typically-developing child is in the advanced AP math classes or the all-star sports team. Bigger than if your neighbor’s kid is meeting milestones faster or earning awards that your children aren’t.
And even better—it’s not found in a book, a doctor’s office or a school—it’s found in your own home.
The secret is: you. Your family.
It is the unconditional love that tells your child: you are worth the world not when/if you accomplish x, y, z—but because you are you. And you are enough.
And though we have been blessed to work with incredible support systems, therapists, doctors and resources—I see the most profound “growth” in Kate when she’s playing with her big brother, “mothering” her little sister, singing with her mommy, wrestling with her daddy, snuggling with her grandparents, being doted on by friends.
As her parents, we have the special love to meet her special needs—all of our children’s needs—everything else is just icing on the cake. When I realized that, I had no anxiety about what I should do next or how I should do it. I trusted myself to make the best decisions for us—for all of our children. And that what was happening within our home was what was most important. I took that energy that I spent thinking of how I can make Kate all she can be—and put it toward helping make our family all we can be.
When I get emails from sweet parents who are just starting this journey—eager to know where to start, what to do, how to go about finding the best for their children—I always encourage: There is so much you can do and so many different, unique resources that work for every family. But the single most important thing is free, unscheduled and bountiful.
It is something you have on-hand and in your heart.
It is the unconditional love of a supportive family—the launching pad to limitless possibilities.
That is the magic sauce for every child.
It is the magic for all of us.