Guest Blogger Shon Christy
As a father of five, Father’s Day has always been a special day for me! It is a little more special because six years ago my first and only son was born on Father’s Day weekend. Beckett was born with some health challenges and also happened to have Down syndrome. We knew that he would have Down syndrome so that wasn’t a surprise to us. We had done plenty of research and talked to people all over the country from doctors, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Upside of Downs in Northeast Ohio, and probably most importantly other families in Summit County to help prepare us for what that might mean.
In much of the preliminary research we did online there was a recurring theme of lowered expectations and all of the things Beckett would not be able to do. This was quite discouraging to our family and we were not going to accept that for his future. But our educational journey took a much different turn when we started talking to Down syndrome groups and other families that had direct experience! We found amazing stories of achievement, success, love, community change and support! So when Beckett arrived we were ready for an amazing journey!
I wanted to share three things that I have learned over the last six years. I know that 6 years is not a long time in the big picture, but I believe these things to be significant!
A foundation of understanding
What I have learned along the way has been priceless and I am happy to share it with anyone giving this blog a read! I believe that a strong foundation of understanding is important. I needed to understand that every child in life will have challenges along the way, not just children with special needs. In fact don’t we all have significant challenges along the way? Beckett may have some challenges with speech, another child may have issues with depression, while yet another may struggle with math. It is also important to understand that every kid is a kid and even as humans we are more alike that different. In a diverse world we learn and benefit from others that have different characteristics and I believe it makes us better. I know that I am better, my family is better, and the community that we live in is better because of Beckett’s birth and full inclusion. Starting from a point of understanding and appreciation that we all have diverse characteristics but are more alike than different is very important.
The second thing that I learned very quickly is that we live in one of the most amazingly supportive communities on the planet. I feel truly blessed to live in Summit County and in my city of Stow. Understanding the community supports here have helped me navigate complex systems, laws, and sometimes even the simplest of things like what toys might help him with motor skills. There are programs like Ohio Early Intervention to help navigate the early years and assisting families with starting life out on the right path! Our friends at Summit DD are always a phone call away for any question we might have. We recently spent the last year working with our school Indian Trail, The ARC of Summit and Portage County and the rest of Beckett’s educational team to keep him at his home school fully included in a Kindergarten classroom this coming Fall. Every program we have encountered has either helped provide support, answer questions, or assisted in advocacy when needed. The programs and services provided by the county as well as other non-profits have been great, but probably the greatest support comes from the people in the community itself. Whether it’s a local business supporting Beckett’s Buddies, our Buddy Walk team, or families that have been through things we are experiencing (like the IEP process or making therapy recommendations), we have always felt the amazing love of people around us.
Lastly, I learned that Beckett’s only limits are the ones that we place on him. He has always amazed me with what he could do when we had high expectations. This is the same for every child in my opinion and we expect the best from our five! We have had doctors and therapists tell us what he wasn’t going to do many times, we thanked them for their opinions and then went on to work and prove them wrong. Time and time again he rose to the occasion! That’s not to say he always does, but we continue to work on the things he has challenges with and will not stop until he overcomes them.
Michael Jordan said, “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” We have found this to be accurate!
With a strong understanding that everyone is more alike than different, understanding the amazing support systems we have in Summit County, and understanding that the only limitations individuals with disabilities have are the ones that we have in our minds, we can help create a world where there are only abilities, like my friends at the Akron Rotary Camp always say!