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  • Loving A Child Born Different Is Easy. Here's What Is Harder To Overcome

    A TEDx Talk speaker says acceptance can take place in three stages.
    by Dahl D. Bennett .
Loving A Child Born Different Is Easy. Here's What Is Harder To Overcome
  • New York-based writer Andrew Solomon, in his TEDx talk titled ‘Love, No Matter What,’ explores how parents navigate accepting their children who turn out to be different from them. Solomon culls from his own experience of growing up gay. While he had no doubts that his mother loved him, accepting him was a different matter altogether.

    He narrates an incident in a shoe store as a young kid when the salesman offered him and his brother balloons and asked which color they wanted — his brother wanted a red balloon while Solomon said he wanted pink. “My mother said that she thought I'd really rather have a blue balloon. But I said that I definitely wanted the pink one. And she reminded me that my favorite color was blue. The fact that my favorite color now is blue, but I'm still gay,” he says.

    The ‘different’ child

    Solomon also cites the time when, as a journalist of The New York Times, he had to interview parents who were suddenly confronted with the issue of having to raise an “extraordinary” child and how their level of acceptance of their child’s differences had come to affect the latter’s identity.

    “Most deaf children are born to hearing parents. Those hearing parents tend to try to ‘cure’ them. Those deaf people discover a community somehow in adolescence. Most gay people are born to straight parents. Those straight parents often want them to function in what they think of as the mainstream world, and those gay people have to discover identity later on,” he says.

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    3 levels of acceptance

    For a child to come to terms with his identity, there are three levels of acceptance, says Solomon. “There's self-acceptance, there's family acceptance, and there's social acceptance. And they don't always coincide.”

    When parents try to find a “cure” for their child with a condition or try to make his behavior fit the mainstream world, a child can grow up angry because he feels as though his parents did not love him. But what has actually happened is his parents did not accept him.

    Solomon expounds, “Love is something that, ideally, is there unconditionally throughout the relationship between a parent and a child. But acceptance is something that takes time. It always takes time,” he stresses.

    A mother’s love

    In his talk, Solomon shared the story of Clinton Brown, who was diagnosed with diastrophic dwarfism when he was born. His parents were told he would not walk or talk or even have the capacity to recognize them. The advice was to leave him in the hospital to ‘die quietly.’

    Brown’s mother, however, refused and took her son home. Despite financial adversities, she managed to find the best doctors who deal with diastrophic dwarfism. She got Clinton the 30 surgical procedures he needed to walk. Growing up, Clinton was also provided with tutors to help him with his schoolwork, and he ended up being the first one in his family to go to college, “where he lived on campus and drove a specially fitted car that accommodated his unusual body.”

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    When Solomon asked the mother what helped Clinton emerge ‘as this charming, accomplished, wonderful person’ he was told: “I loved him, that's all. Clinton just always had that light in him. And his father and I were lucky enough to be the first to see it there.”

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    Parenting the differently abled

    Solomon narrates another story of a New York couple who has a child with Down syndrome (DS). Thinking their child’s educational opportunities were limited, they built a center to educate not only their child but other kids with Down syndrome. That center grew to become Cooke Center, where thousands upon thousands of children with intellectual disabilities are being taught, Solomon shares.

    “I thought it was surprising how all of these families had all of these children with all of these problems, problems that they mostly would have done anything to avoid, and that they had all found so much meaning in that experience of parenting,” Solomon expounds.

    In the end, Solomon says, the way families negotiate differences is a ‘nearly universal phenomenon’ and that ironically, it turns out, that it's our differences and our negotiation of differences that unite us. “I believe that in the same way that we need species diversity to ensure that the planet can go on, so we need this diversity of affection and diversity of family in order to strengthen the ecosphere of kindness,” he says.

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