Before you read any more of this article, take a moment and think of one that you really love to do. Now ask yourself:
- When did you start liking this?
- What did you do to help yourself grow this interest?
- Did you have help?
- And if so, who helped you?
This thing is what we call a spark…a sense of excitement or intense feeling.
Most everyone has one.
We might have found it when in ourselves when we were young and fostered it through teams and competition or groups and activities or maybe it came from simply reading about something our interest grew to know more.
But for those with special needs finding that spark can be challenging because of health, mobility or developmental issues. I know for us, we could see how much Elizabeth liked to cook and work with children, so we have grown her interests through volunteering and internship opportunities. But how did others find their spark?
I took some time to talk to two moms who have children with special needs to ask about their child’s spark. Lori is a mom to 4 children and is an active advocate for those with special needs since the birth of her youngest, Andrea, 26, who has Down’s Syndrome. Diane is a mom of 4 and her son, Stuart age 22 has Autism.
When I asked how they found their child’s spark, Lori told me that Andrea showed a love of being on stage after being encouraged to take acting classes with her brother. She was in elementary school at the time and “it was during this time that we realized that she enjoyed being in the spotlight” To this day, Andrea is a part of community theatre. The spark was found!
Diane tells a bit of a different story, for her, it was a neighbor who mentioned a local basketball program he was coaching. It was his encouragement that helped Diane find the spark for her son. “I actually wrote a note to this coach to thank him for this opportunity and all the good things playing on the team brought.”
But finding their spark means being open to the fact that it may be entirely different from what you thought or what you actually like yourself. Because we spend so much time and effort raising these special people, we feel we really know them inside and out but may be quite surprised when an activity or interest of theirs is not in line with ours. But it IS theirs and we need to allow them have it. “If they enjoy it, let them continue.” Says Lori. Andrea loves camping and swimming in lakes. Lori? Not so much “Yuk, so I Iearned to respect her wishes over my dreams.” Diane says to listen outside yourself “maybe someone will offer out a thought or see something you may not see because you are too close to it yourself.
Lori put it nicely when she said “I believe the best way to foster the spark in a child or anyone, is by giving them exposure to multiple opportunities, supporting them and educating yourself on their area of interest. Also, don’t expect perfection the first, 50th or 500th time.” While Diane says that for her, “not having high expectations but simply enjoying what the experience brought” is how she fostered the spark.
But how do you go about finding these exposures and opportunities?
Many times they will not be presented to you rather you will be required to do some work to make them happen. Don’t be afraid to begin the work. Know that there are government agencies in many areas that may be a good first step into helping you learn what is available in your community. Calling libraries, local businesses, churches and the YMCA may all be options to finding out how to grow your child’s spark. Lori always looks for ways for Andrea to continue honing her acting skills and Diane made sure that Stuart could play basketball all year round.
Maybe it will be calls to a local bakery to see if your child, who loves to bake, can help there? Or maybe calling the library to see if your child who loves books, can volunteer there. Maybe it will be contacting local churches about their volunteer programs or local YMCA’s for their exercise or art classes that may fit your child’s challenges.
Something that was agreed upon by all is to make sure to be honest about your child’s special needs. By being honest about what supports they need, what issues they have and how best to work with them will make it easier to arrange the opportunity. And because we all know two situations are the same and helping them understand how your child “works” will help opportunities to be more successful and also make sure your child is safe.
I think that the most important thing is to nurture the spark and help it grow for your special child while all the while remembering what the world thinks nor what other typical aged peers might be doing is not important. Rather celebrate the light your child shows. It is unique and to be cherished.