Every single person who has ever walked on this earth has had their share of difficulties in life. Life is not perfect. Nature has never been perfect. Nature is fleeting, is experimenting, and is continually evolving. Such a kind of nature brings variety to life and makes this world an interesting place to live in. Yet, when it comes to having a disability or a disadvantage, people can quickly conclude that this is bad and unfortunate. They avoid discussing or dealing with it, even though the only disability in life is a bad attitude!
I’m not suggesting that one should actively seek or wish to have a disability even for a moment. However, whether we like it or not, some people are born with a disability. This is a part of nature that cannot always be prevented. Even so, the diagnosis of a disability in your child need not all be bad and can even have some advantages. In this article, I have demonstrated how a diagnosis of a disability in a child can usher in some benefits in one’s life and living.
If you remain unconvinced, then read on…
1. Problem Solving
“Necessity is the mother of invention”, said the famous Greek philosopher Plato. A problem encourages creative efforts to overcome the problem. The most recent example for this is the COVID-19 vaccine, created by the Oxford vaccine group, in a record time of months rather than the usual time to make a vaccine, usually a decade. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book ‘Big Magic’, the universe has buried strange jewels deep within us all. The universe then stands back to see if we can unearth them.
The diagnosis of a disability in your child is a moment to determine whether you dare to bring forth the treasures hidden within you and your child. Most parents/carers of children I have come across often see solutions where others only see problems. A diagnosis of an impairment or disability in your child can be an opportunity for more creative life, rather than a mundane one. And a creative life is any day a more exciting and glorious life.
2. Appreciation for life
As they say, ‘there is no pure joy, just as there is no pure grief’. Notwithstanding which disability or impairment your child has, every child has both strengths and weaknesses. And as parents, our aim should be to build on their strengths and play to these. Next, we should think of ways to ease their weaknesses. Having a disability can help us appreciate the positives in our lives and our child, which many do not realise or fail to acknowledge. Natural evolution has made the world around us, diverse and varied. Neurodiversity brings different perspectives to life, which is necessary for humankind’s continued progress.
In my 20+ years of experience in child disability, I have found that parents who accept and come to terms with the diagnosis of their child’s disability and implement the management plan – their children did better. After all, you are what you think and how you think. Everywhere around you, you will see examples of how it is the attitude, not the aptitude, that ultimately determines the altitude in one’s life.
Having a disability naturally brings qualities of perseverance and determination. This is one of the many reasons why some employers prefer to employ people with a disability in specific roles. People with an impairment or disability are possibility-thinkers. They don’t give up at the first hurdle. This possibility and growth mindset is essential to help your child overcome or side-step their disability and have a fulfilling life.
4. More Joy
Who is your favourite sports hero? Which is your favourite movie? Think of stories from your childhood that have made a lasting impression on you. And you will notice that your favourite sports-hero, your favourite movie or novel, is likely to be the one where the character has overcome the odds stacked against him or her to claim victory and achieve glory. So, why should we see life with a disability as unfavourable, if there is more joy, more satisfaction, and more sense of fulfilment to be had when one overcomes this? History shows us that the world has always honoured people and bestowed glory on those who have overcome adversity. So pick yourself up and move on to be able to bask in the glory that is yours to have.
The diagnosis of a disability in your child could be seen as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to meet and connect with new people. Recognition of a disability can be an opportunity to network with a support organisation or a self-help group. Discovery of a disability can help you to remain curious. This can be an opportunity to learn about a new condition and a new world. In my case, despite going through medical school and earning a postgraduate qualification in medicine, I had little to no knowledge about hearing loss when my daughter was diagnosed with profound deafness.
In my journey, I met such interesting people and have made lifelong friends. This experience helped me to change my career from being an intensive care paediatrician to a neurodevelopmental paediatrician. Moreover, all my learning has helped me help my daughter to fulfil her ambition to study medicine. Most importantly, diagnosing a disability in your child can help you think, feel and perceive another soul. I believe that it is a privilege to be involved in the enablement journey of another human being.
6. Builds character
A diagnosis of a disability in your child can become a character steeling exercise. You develop the ability to deal with difficult and sometimes unpleasant situations. You start thinking innovatively to overcome your problems or deal with troubles. You develop a caring nature and start taking more responsibilities for your child. Your commitment to your child makes you even more trustworthy and respected by your family and friends. After you start consistently implementing the enablement plan given by your neurodevelopmental paediatrician, slowly you start changing as a person. You become more hopeful and more optimistic. You start having more faith in nature to reward your efforts. You start measuring your worth by your dedication and commitment to your child’s cause and not by your successes or failures. You start loving what you do so much that the words success and failure become irrelevant to you.
Technology has been a great leveller between people who have no limitations and people who have functional limitations. When I say technology, I mean assistive technology involving software programmes, gadgets, equipment, devices, and services. In software, we now have speech recognition software, spelling and writing software, reading and literacy software, organisational software, general student software, cross-curricular software, to name a few. In gadgets and equipment, we have voice-activated products, writing tools, scanning tools, mobility aids, reaching aids, food preparation aids, kettle tippers, hoists, braille aids, magnifiers, talking clocks, stationery exercisers, travel continence aids, and access ramps.
What’s more, these technological advances, aids and improvements are being delivered to us at a breakneck speed. I have personally witnessed the transformation from chunky hearing aids to compact, programmable and miniature speech processors that can easily be concealed in my daughter’s case.
8. Increasing awareness and acceptance
One of the most gratifying and welcome changes I have witnessed in the world around me in the past two decades is the increasing acceptance of diversity and heterogeneity. Even for something as minor as being vegetarian, I remember being frowned upon for that in some restaurants, two decades ago. These days whether you are a vegan or otherwise, all dietary requirements are catered to without even a blink. Also, just think of the massive shift in societal attitudes towards LGBT and BAME community. It is now unlawful to discriminate someone because of their age, gender, race, disability or sexual orientation. One is legally protected against discrimination by the Equality Act 2010. Obviously, there is still some way to go. Nevertheless, I’m thoroughly pleased to see the phenomenal change in people’s awareness and acceptance of other people’s needs and disabilities.
9. The science of Neuroplasticity to the rescue
When I joined medical school, you would have been frowned upon or even failed, if you said that the brain was continually evolving, changing, and adapting. The concept of Neuroplasticity was not found, evidenced, or understood then. However, over the past two decades, there has been an irrefutable and infinite amount of evidence to show that our brain is continually rewiring and reorganising in response to any new learning or experience. Even a simple piece of information can physically alter the neurons’ structure and lead to the brain’s reorganisation. This should give you the belief that the learning, therapy, play and practice you provide to your child will help them learn and even get better at it. It is a simple yet generous rule of life that you will improve at whatever you practice. You are what you repeatedly do. This is proof of Neuroplasticity for you.
10. More help and support
There are several benefits and allowances that you could be entitled to after your child receives a diagnosis of a disability. Many employers want to be seen as social enterprises and thus are contributing to the social good. If anything this pandemic has propelled changes towards equality and fairness. Many governments around the world give tax rebates/tax benefits to employers who employ people with disabilities. Employers also know that a person with a disability can help them win customers trust through their goodwill.
More importantly, some employers have begun to see specific disabilities as an advantage. For example, organisations in the intelligence and security sector and certain software developers and IT companies specifically are looking to employ people with Autism/ASD, because of their strengths in spotting patterns and their attention to detail. Increasing awareness of disability and the need for inclusivity has led companies to offer various facilities, e.g. priority boarding on airlines/transport, dedicated parking bays, discounts, tax rebates, council tax benefits, VAT exemption on certain goods, reservation for a proportion of tickets, admissions, jobs, and more. So, there is everything to hope for!
11.Purpose and Meaning
Last but not least, a diagnosis of a disability in your child can become your ‘Ikigai‘. Ikigai is a Japanese concept where ‘iki’ means life and ‘gai’ implies a reason for living. Simply put, one needs a ‘reason or a cause’ to bring meaning to one’s life and make life worth living. “Having a purpose is the difference between making a living and making a life”, said Tom Thiss. Having a purpose in life has innumerable other benefits. Having a purpose or goal in life helps you have good health and a better sense of wellbeing. A purpose enables you to prioritise things in your life. It improves your focus and resilience. Having a purpose makes you passionate to pursue that purpose. It helps one live life with greater clarity and higher values. One begins to live life with positivity and optimism.
As you can see from the above, many benefits can come out of the diagnosis of a disability. So do not fear adversity because each setback can be an opportunity for growth. Life is an opportunity for everyone to appreciate the beauty of imperfection, as this is an opportunity for growth. Having a disability or a disadvantage can make one resilient. But one can even decide to move past resilience and become anti-fragile. Anti-fragility is beyond resilience and robustness. A resilient person will resist shocks but stay the same, whereas an anti-fragile person can get better with every knock and every shock!
I wish you a lot of anti-fragility and success in the New Year!