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"Writing with the wisdom of a mental health professional and the compassion of a loving father, Dr. Naseef has given us a book that will instruct and inspire us all."
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Robert Naseef's Special Children, Challenged Parents has been featured in the September 2009 issue of O Magazine.
Excerpted from chapter 11 of Special Children, Challenged Parents: The Strengths and Rewards of Raising a Child With a Disability, Revised Edition, by Robert A. Naseef, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2001 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
What I Have Learned from Tariq
Tariq has taught me the meaning of unconditional love. I have learned to honor his sacred right to be loved for who he is. My attachment to his achievements dissolved over time. This was hard to let go in our world driven by appearances and money. Tariq has made very good progress in the past year. He will probably go to a sheltered workshop after his graduation in June 2001. That seemed unlikely for a good while. He is able to sit still and focus long enough to be productive with tasks such as stuffing envelopes or sorting things.
Over the years, I have learned to accept the best he can do and celebrate his achievements. Around the time of his 21st birthday, when I took him to the bathroom, I noticed that he had learned to button the fly on his pants. He didn't need me to do that anymore. My eyes glazed over with joy. A spiritual revelation grows from the intrinsic beauty of each and every child's existence even with, and perhaps because of, such severe limitations in what we have come to expect in life. What a priceless lesson he has taught me without words in his silence!
The inevitable juxtaposition of my son with healthy, typical children used to be so painful. I used to wince every time my friends' kids and my nieces and nephews passed a milestone that Tariq would never achieve — such as riding a bike; learning to swim; graduating from grade school, high school, or college; or getting a job. Now, I can enjoy witnessing their progress, and that's a wonderful gift that has grown out of moments of serenity.
Tariq has taught me how to accept him as well as how to accept myself. I think the challenges in our children radiate inwardly to our own sense of being imperfect. I had to accept my own imperfections, warts and all.
With all children, we have to give up a lot of expectations in order to love our child in the moment. You can't enjoy your life if you don't love them in the moment. Some dreams are deferred and some dreams are remade. Tariq and I do run together, and that is something that I imagined doing with my son. We canoe together, something else I imagined. In those moments, there is nothing wrong with him or me.
A recent gift was learning not to hide differences. For years, I would only keep or put into books the pictures of my son looking normal. Finally, I have gotten to the point of accepting images of Tariq flapping his hands and Tariq looking normal. Both images are okay. He is just as lovable either way. I learned this because photographer Tommie Leonardi thought he was a great subject — as he was. What a wonderful revelation! A certain degree of shame was shed, making me feel lighter.
Tariq continues to teach me to live for myself. He needs me, and he counts on me to do that. He cannot help me when I become old and frail. Rather, I must ensure that his needs are met when I am gone. When I understood that my feelings were my own, I could see reality more clearly. He is happy most of the time.
It continues to astound me that my son with no words has helped me to develop my own unique voice. This is even more magical when I recall how shy I was growing up. I was on the edge of the playground throughout my 8 years in elementary school. Today, my voice comes through as I practice my profession in various formats such as writing, public speaking, training, and psychotherapy.
Children with special needs are spiritual catalysts. They challenge and sometimes force us to look at ourselves. They help us accept our own imperfections and the imperfections of others. In that sense, Tariq is not damaged in the least