Building A Dream Team
It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.
After almost twenty years of parenting children with special needs, my wife and I have learned the necessity of vision. We have also learned a great deal about the importance of hope. Without vision and hope a special needs parent can be overwhelmed by difficulty, disappointment, and discouragement. The daily difficulty of life. The emotional disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. The energy sapping discouragement that comes when we have been sobered too much, and helped too little. All of these must be defeated to successfully build a family with special needs.
Hope and vision are bulwarks against the staggering emotional toll these overwhelming forces can take on our lives. They keep us from becoming negative about our future, family, or even ourselves. They help us see what others might not see, believe where others might give up, and exert effort when circumstances tell us to abandon the cause.
Hope and vision are what lead my wife and I to build a “Dream Team” for our sons who happen to have special needs. At the time, we simply referred to our efforts as building a team. Since then we have come to realize this team was a dream come true.
The original “Dream Team” represented the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics. They won the gold medal in unmatched style. Since then any time a collection of stars are assembled to accomplish a challenging task, the name “Dream Team” is considered if not applied.
When we think about the friends who have come together to help our children, we see an equally inspirational team. We can call them the “Dream Team” without any sense of exaggeration. This collection of friends supplements our families love for our sons. They care, serve, and innovate. They challenge our limits and fears in an effort to help our children fulfill their destinies. They make sure our kids are socially included in everything from sports to dating. Every child with special needs should have just such a “Dream Team”.
The writing goal of this post is to provide some ideas, insights, and tips about how to build a “Dream Team” for your child.
Let’s take a look at five steps you can take toward building your own “Dream Team”.
My wife and I began thinking about our children’s future very early. We imagined elementary, middle, and high school. We remembered our own experiences, and the experiences of children who were mistreated regularly. Clear in our minds was the fact that no group was more susceptible to isolation, bullying, and general mistreatment than special needs kids.
Those early imaginings brought to mind my own personal experiences of being protected and protecting others from bullying. I decided that my children were going to need the kinds of friends who were willing and capable of protecting them, and so began my journey to find families with children who might share this vision.
We began this quest when our oldest was about 5 or 6 years old. You have to start early.
Connect With Parents
The connections we make with parents will determine the friendship opportunities of our children. This is true for young kids whether they are typical or have special needs.
My wife was the one who launched an innocent event, which produced lifelong connections with parents of children who would eventually share our vision.
She turned my son’s birthday parties into must attend events. Inviting families from his class at school, our church, and our neighborhood produced large crowds every year. It was overwhelming at first, and not a little expensive, but then we began to notice…we were building a community of connections for our son.
We spent loads of time with these parents, and eventually built unique and special connections. We relied on them for personal friendship, family advice, and fun. Some of them had special needs children, while many of them had typical ones.
From this group of relationships came children whose hearts were drawn to ours in a special way. They had grown up with our kids, and saw them as friends not special needs kids to be protected. They became buddies, partners, and mentors to them in programs like E-Soccer and Hope Technology School.
What we failed to realize then, but understand now, is that our refusal to be isolated as special needs parents helped our children. We made connections to parents, and those parents inspired their children to make connections to our sons.
Understand, Educate, and Inspire
The easiest friendships for children with disabilities to build are with other special needs children. We wanted those for our kids, but we also wanted them to have typical children as their friends. This meant making the extra effort with typical families.
What we learned very quickly, is that most people were unaware and uninformed, when it came to the subject of special needs children and their families. We realized that if we were going to have friendships with typical families, it would require some effort. We were going to have to understand, educate, and inspire.
The understanding meant exercising a relaxed attitude toward awkward statements or insensitive actions. We had to make decisions not to be easily hurt, socially embarrassed, or emotionally reactive in the face of inexperience.
We had to learn that the right response to difficult moments was to educate and inspire. This meant teaching people what they might not know with humor, sensitivity, and patience. It would also require the ability to communicate a positive and inspiring vision of life with special needs—one that would attract rather than repel.
Over time it became apparent that the large majority of people with whom we had contact wanted to be involved with our family. There is no question in our minds that this happened, because we put ourselves around people with big hearts, and we made the effort to understand, educate and inspire.
The world is filled with families who would love to be part of your family, and children who would love to be on your child’s “Dream Team”. We simply need to be understand, educate, and inspire.
Make It Fun
All children, kids, and teenagers like to have fun. If our special needs children are going to have great friends, then our homes are going to have to be great fun. I wish I could say that I understood how to make this happen, but the person in our family who understands fun is my wife. The good news is that I was smart enough to follow her lead, and in time I like to believe I have improved in that area.
We have invested time and money into making our home a place where people can have fun. That’s right, in the midst of the everyday stress of autism we have had to learn how to make life enjoyable.
This fun has made kids want to come over our house, which has motivated parents to call us for play dates over the years. If you make it fun the kids will come, and some of them will become a permanent part of your child’s “Dream Team”.
Make It Mutually Beneficial
We are grateful for those kids who have become part of our children’s “Dream Team”. That gratitude has motivated us to ask how we can help them. We want them to feel like they get something extra special out of their relationship with our family.
This has lead us to love, support, and believe in the kids on our “Dream Team” as if they were our own. They have become extended family. Whether it is filling out a college recommendation, providing some coaching, or helping them reach their goals—we want to do whatever we can to make certain that they experience benefits from being a part of our “Dream Team”.
Today could be the beginning of a brand new chapter in the life of your family, if you begin building your “Dream Team”.