Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A New Perspective on Development

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A New Perspective on Development

Article excerpt

When our first child, Alex, was born in 1989, we were armed with an arsenal of child development materials. Books outlining the first years of life, magazines charting the month-by-month progression of the typical infant. We poured over the texts in eager anticipation of each exciting milestone. Each author was careful to explain that every child develops at a different pace, that we should not place too much emphasis on the rather arbitrary averages outlined in the books. Good advice, we thought, as we eagerly charted our son's development to see how he stacked up against the "average" child.

Months passed, and an obvious truth became apparent - our son was exceptional, a prodigy, gifted beyond compare. Although he wasn't yet solving math problems or playing the violin, the way he dropped his rubber ball into Tupperware containers was incredible to behold.

Our pride swelled with each new accomplishment. Alex began crawling at seven months. At 10 months, he was blowing into a kazoo - Mozart probably didn't do that until he was at least a year! At 10 and a half months, Alex was taking his first steps. At 12 months, he was playing hide-and-seek, and at 12 and a half months, he began saying his first words.

At 13 months, he was struck by a drunk driver.

The development books were thrown out. Alex's severe brain injury destroyed most of his former functioning, leaving only unanswered questions. As we dealt with emotions ranging from shock to despair, we somehow tapped an inner source of strength. Believing that "normal" development was still an appropriate goal, we embarked on a plan to bring our child back.

Days turned to weeks, months to years. Therapists manipulated him, doctors prodded him, lab technicians poked at him, but nobody seemed to have any solutions. Alex made some progress, but each subtle improvement was excruciatingly slow and required tremendous effort. Success came in the smallest of gains - the increased movement of his finger or the turn of his head. What once seemed the simplest of tasks - grasping a rubber ball - now appeared hopelessly complex and utterly unattainable.

And yet, transformations were occurring. Not so much in Alex, but in us. Slowly we began to appreciate the little miracles that were never mentioned in the child development books. Like the day when, for the first time since the accident, a tiny comer of Alex's mouth curled up in a barely noticeable smile. …

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