Editor's Note: In honor of Thanksgiving, we asked our "New Normal" contributors to reflect on the intersection of gratitude and disability. We'd love to hear what you are thankful for in the comments below! Read part one here.
When raising a child who has autism, a sleep disorder, and all of the other diagnoses that come as a result, I often hear, "I don't know how you do it." The simplest answer is that we all do what we need to do. This is our life; it is the only life we know. And even though it is extremely challenging at times, we love our son unconditionally and we do what we need to do to give him what he needs.
When we think a little deeper and truly reflect on our daily lives, though, we realize how much help G-d provides. Every time we feel that we hit our physical and emotional limits, G-d graces us with an easier day, a night's sleep and some much-needed moments to recharge.
The other way we are able to "do this" is with the help of our support system. This support comes from many different places, including social services agencies, our son's school staff, therapists, camp counselors, and wonderful family and friends (who are more like family). We are able to do what we need to do for Avi and our other children because of the friends and family who engage actively. These individuals love Avi and us unconditionally. They reach out to connect with Avi, they call on a regular basis to find out how Avi is doing and to ask what we need. Some of these people do not wait for us to tell them what we need; sometimes they just jump in and do for us and show their love and understanding in ways that leave us grateful beyond words.
Many times, though, there isn’t much they can do. But just knowing they care empowers us and supports us and gives us strength.
Upon further thinking about how we "do this," what is it that we are doing? We are raising our child to maximize his potential and become the best person he can be, as we do for all our children. Obviously, this isn’t following the ‘expected’ path, but in many ways we are fortunate to have Avi because he’s raising us along the way.
Avi is a computer whiz, has a wonderful memory, a great ear for music, an engaging personality and a quirky sense of humor. He also struggles daily to learn and do what comes easily to most people. King David says in Psalms that a righteous person falls seven times and still gets up. Avi proves his righteousness each and every day. Avi has and continues to teach us to appreciate the small things in life and to cherish our time spent together.
So when asked this Thanksgiving season what I am grateful for as a parent raising a child with autism, I say, I thank G-d for continuing to grant me clarity of mind and strength when I need it most. I am grateful for the amazing teachers, therapists, service providers and his amazing camp staff for supporting Avi and our family. I am thankful for our friends and family who know how to support us and do it in ways that truly hold us up. I continue to be grateful and inspired by my other children who are resilient, kind, and compassionate. I am grateful for an amazing husband who is there with me each step of the way and most of all, I am thankful to our tour guide, Avi, and for the incredible opportunity to be his mother. Happy Thanksgiving!
Michelle Steinhart has been working in Jewish Education and Jewish Special Education for over 20 years, teaching in day schools and synagogue schools, serving as a counselor in summer camps, and as an advisor in youth groups. She has been at Temple Israel Center of White Plains since 1998 and has been the Director of Special Student Services (now Director of Inclusion) since 2000. Michelle graduated Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women with a B.A. Degree in Education and an Associate’s Degree in Judaic Studies. Michelle went on to earn her M.A. degree in Special Education at Hunter College. Michelle leads professional development sessions, is a MATAN mentor and is a 2002 recipient of the Grinspoon Steinhardt Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. Michelle and her husband Yaakov live in Rockland County with their four children, Avi, Shaina, Shael and Shaya. Michelle's oldest child, Avi has an autism spectrum disorder.