Our Gifts…

Everyone, and I mean, everyone has a gift. I spend a lot of time around those with special needs. Between my work and my home life, I eat, sleep and breathe the “special” world.  I also teach adults with disabilities at a community college. Many of these adults are people who have autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy or some other genetic disorder. The students are supposed to have, at least, a 3rd grade reading level. Many do, but some do not. As you probably realize, the students have many differing needs. Sometimes, it’s challenging to differentiate for everyone. I teach entrepreneurship. So, imagine teaching 7-10 adults with varying disabilities about opening their own business. Furthermore, understand that this is foreign content to them.  Most have not had business courses in high school and transition. I’m teaching about costs and profit and marketing to a room full of people who, for the most part, have never heard these terms before. I use visuals, simplify terms, speak in explicit, shorter sentences and do whatever I need to do to help them to understand, retain and make applicable meaning to the concepts. This…is…not…an…easy…task!

I’ve enjoyed teaching this class and I’m back at it this semester.  I have learned way more from these amazing people than I could ever teach them. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that we all have a gift. And, although, that may sound cliche, I’m learning that it is an undeniable truth.

One of my students should not have been allowed in the class. His reading ability is low and he is quite impacted by autism. He raises his hand about every 43 seconds and says, “Chris, Chris, I have a question.” He then proceeds to share, not a question, but a statement, sometimes on topic, sometimes a random fact that he knows or something about himself. This young man is just delightful. He often talks about the piano. The aide in the room had shared that she knew he played the piano quite well. Since I had not heard him play, “quite well” was subjective. At our last class, I asked him if he was able to sing also. This young man, who could only string short, staccato sentences together, stood up and sang the most beautiful version of Blessed Be Your Name. I stood in awe. His voice was angelic and smooth.  I was a little bit ashamed, too, because I probably wouldn’t have guessed, based on outward appearances, that he had the ability to belt out such fluid lyrics with such grace. A gift.

I have another student. He is bound to a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy. His body is contorted and twisted and from appearances, even lifting his head upright is a feat. His speech is very poor and he is hard to understand. He does not use a communication device of any kind.  I typically only catch a word here or there and try to string them together to figure out what he is saying. I wasn’t sure of his abilities, since he was new to the program. During our second class, I was teaching the word “marketing”. I had broken the definition down to an explanation that marketing is simply letting people know about our business. At some point, this young man raised his hand as high as he could and I called on him. He asked me a question and all I could hear was the letter P. I looked toward his caregiver for help. You’re not gonna believe what he was trying to ask me! He wanted to know if I was going to be teaching about the 4 P’s of marketing. What!?

I asked how he knew about the 4 P’s and he shared that he learned about them in his economics course in high school. He also wanted to know how PBS and other non-profits stayed in business and how Nickelodeon structured their organizations and many brands. For the record, I had not planned to delve into the 4 P’s of marketing, but, to my defense, I didn’t expect to have a Seth Godin follower in my class! He officially knocked me off my feet when he asked me my thoughts about the best platform to publish his book. Um, what? Apparently, he’s an avid writer who is also a history buff and enjoys comparing the leadership characteristics of the U.S. Presidents, particularly those who came just before, during and post war. A gift.

I have two children. My daughter’s gifts are obvious. I could go on and on about her and her accomplishments. My son, however, is the kind of kid that you just have to look a little deeper when you are trying to find gifts if you don’t know him well. He is 20 and has autism and cerebral palsy. He is sweet and loving and challenging all at the same time. He is non-verbal, not toilet trained and needs my help with all of his life skills. He loves SpongeBob, NASCAR and Lilo & Stitch (and really Netflix, couldn’t you keep that movie in your lineup just a little longer!?!)

Sometimes when I’ve had a rough day, I believe he knows. He will wrap his arm around me, look me in the eyes and smile the cheesiest smile you’ve ever seen. He doesn’t care what I look like, what I smell like nor how fashionable my attire. He just knows that he loves me, unconditionally, and that his smile melts the weight of the world from my shoulders. A gift.

We all have gifts. As a leader and educator, it’s your responsibility to seek out the gifts of others and to lift them up. As parents, it’s our responsibility to seek out the gifts of our children and nourish those. As people, we owe it to ourselves to reflect on the gifts that we bring to the world. Doing so, helps us to remember our purpose, the good things we bring to others. No gift is too small, no gift too great a blessing. We can only be fulfilled when we embrace our gifts and those of others. And a happy life is a fulfilled life.

And by all means, never underestimate our amazing kids!



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Disclaimer:  There are exceptions to every rule.  Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires.  The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal, medical or educational advice, as every single situation is different.

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