Have you ever played checkers with someone who's blind? I have. Paul and I set up the board and we began. I hadn't played in years. He was good. It was my last meeting with him and I had travelled hours to his new group home. This visit was a final follow up. After meeting with the staff, I met with him. I remembered from earlier discussions that he liked checkers so I invited him to play. After he got over the shock that I played the game, he got the board, set it up and we began to play.
I had met with Paul weekly for just over a year. Session after session we discussed his life, his fears, his direction. That along with behavioural programming and parent training had helped, he was doing better. Not well, but better.
Now he had moved to find a new start. A new school. A new agency. A new set of staff. He needed this move. His reputation locally was epic. While we played checkers that day, I could see Paul relax and suddenly the chatter - easy and fun, had become confidential - soft and serious. He told me that he wanted to have children one day and that he wanted all his children to be "blind and slow just like me". He said that the worst thing for him was the fact that his parents weren't blind, or slow and couldn't teach him how to get by, to deal with people, to cope with being different. They couldn't or wouldn't think of him as anything other than normal. They wouldn't hear of 'it' - his disability.
Years later I worked on a radio documentary called, "Life, Death and Disability" for CBC radio and in it I interviewed leaders of the disability community across Canada and the United States. To a one each of these leaders credited their paretns for their self esteem. Example after example of parents who taught their child to accept their disability by parental acceptance of disability. They taught self respect by modelling respect for the child's self. Self esteem for esteeming the child as a disabled child. Self worth by acknowledging worth, not in spite of the disability but because of it. This to me, is the basis of good parenting, good support.
Paul's parents couldn't, wouldn't accept Paul's disability. They lived in denial and wanted Paul to believe "You are just like everyone else." Paul knew that for the lie it was. He knew that the basis for the lie was shame. He wanted more from his parents. He wanted what every kid wants.
"Help me live in my world as me. The real world as the real me. Accept me for me and so will I. Respect the journey I am on, walk a while with me and I will find my way. Love me for me and I will then have the capacity to love you, for you."