A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Autism NOW Midwest Regional Summit here in Indianapolis. My favorite part, along with many other participants, was the breakout sessions where individuals and families were able to tell stories, talk and share their experiences. My “stand out” moment of the summit occurred at one of these sessions.
For the first half of the session, adults who have disabilities shared their experiences with taking risks. I heard my friend Melody tell her beautiful story of growing up in the rural south with a loving grandmother but little support or protection at school. When Melody was a young adult, she bravely took a bus to Indianapolis to live with her beloved Aunt. Now she has built a life with her husband, Joe, and is currently the president of Self Advocates of Indiana. Another story was told by Chester, a young gentleman who happens to be blind. He told of being determined to visit downtown in his community on his own. He made that trip, but there were moments when he felt scared even though he was determined to succeed. When his parents ask him how it went, he told them that everything was fine. He wasn’t about to let his parents know how scared he had been.
Following these stories, conference participants had a chance to make comments and share their thoughts. I will never forget one mom whose life was changed by listening to these stories about being given a chance to take a risk. This mom, with tears in her eyes, told of longing for a baby and finally having one at a late age. Her son faces daily challenges due to an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She also shared that she had always felt it was her job to do everything she could for her son and always be there to protect him. And then came the moment - she turned to Melody, Chester and the others and said, “Thank you. I now understand that my job is to allow my son to take risks so he can achieve his hopes and dreams.”
Taking risks doesn’t always turn out the way that we would hope. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way that we planned. But often we learn the most when we are allowed to take acceptable risks even if we don’t succeed. As a parent I have been that mom spending so much time and energy trying to make everything okay for my son. Ultimately, I try to remember what that mother so eloquently shared. I need to be that parent who helps my son take acceptable risks so that he can learn and work toward his hopes and dreams. After all, isn’t that what we all want?
Jill Ginn is The Arc of Indiana’s Manager of The Arc Network