- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

I constantly am on the lookout for stories of (and usually from) parents who have managed to think clearly under stress and handle extraordinary parenting situations extraordinarily, parents who have exhibited unusual courage under not-so-friendly fire, parents who should be recognized (but rarely are) as paragons of parenting virtue (when they often are regarded as the opposite).

One such story recently was sent my way from the parent of an adult child with Down syndrome. I have made certain editorial changes to her testimony for purposes of clarity and the protection of identities.

She writes: “When my son was born, I had no experience as a parent, much less with a child with special needs. I grieved for three days over the loss of that ‘perfect baby’ I thought I was going to have. Then I noticed that he nursed, slept, wet his diapers and cried … just like every other baby I had ever seen. I suddenly realized that he had more in common with other children than not. That burst of insight caused my husband and me to stop the pity party and dedicate ourselves to raising a caring, responsible adult.

“Unfortunately, our local public school system thought it should ‘help.’ We were told by administrators, school psychologists and teachers that we should trust the ‘experts’ to know what was best for our child. It turned out, however, that what they had in mind was to treat our son as if he was incapable rather than capable.

“One day the special education teacher called to tell me that our son had come to school on field trip day without his signed permission form. She asked if I would give permission over the phone so he could go. No, I wouldn’t.

“‘But he wants to go,’ she said, ‘and he forgot the form.’

“I told her I understood what she was saying. It was obvious, however, that she didn’t understand why I would not give the permission she was seeking.

“I asked her, ‘Did you give Robby the form?’

“‘Yes,’ she said.

“‘And did you tell him to get it signed?’

“‘Yes, but …’

“‘So he did not do what you told him to do?’

“‘Yes, but …’

“‘Well then,’ I said, ‘I’ll just bet he remembers next time.’

“The teacher was flabbergasted, but my child with an IQ of 41 never again forgot to have me sign a required form.

“Another time, he came home and tried out, on me, an ugly four-letter word he had learned from a boy on the school bus. I was not amused. I told him that if he had ‘dirty’ words in his mouth we needed to wash his mouth out with soap to get it clean.

“He went to school the next day and told the teacher what I had done. She sent word that I was not to discipline my child in that manner, and I sent word back to her to please mind her own business. She never again tried to correct my discipline methods, and my son never uttered another four-letter word in my presence.

“Now it occurs to me that if my ‘disabled’ child (who is a terrific young man with a paying job) can learn those lessons, shouldn’t supposedly ‘gifted’ children be able to master them as well?”

Good question, rhetorical though it may be. For never saying “he can’t,” I have given this woman and her husband my coveted Parenting at Its Best Award. What a wonderful world it would be if all parents set the bar so high.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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