Any advice for other families that have children with disabilities or “special needs” ?
Always expect the best from your child. No matter what doctor or anyone else tells you about them. We were told when Tres was first diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy that he would be cognitively delayed. I didn’t care what the doctor said, I saw the light of intelligence in Tres’ eyes. I saw when he would get excited about a new discovery or understanding. I treated him as if he could understand everything. I am so grateful I did that, because he could! Where would he have been if we would have given up on him at 10 months old?
Children know through our words and actions what our expectations of them are whether they are disabled or not. Believe in your child. Tell them how amazing they are. Expect the best from them. They will give it to you. Their best, not their siblings or the neighbor kids. That’s the other thing. Never compare your children to anyone else. Every child is a unique gift with offerings as different as their fingerprints. It is up to us as parents to help them discover what their gifts are.
What’s your favorite thing about being a mother?
Being a mom is such a scary position. It holds responsibilities more important than any office. I love the challenge and reward as I watch my babies grow into who they were created to be. I am in awe of God’s faith in me when He trusted me with their care. No one affects a child’s day, dreams and future like a mother. Of course we are never perfect, but perfect is never the goal.
Is there anything you wish you’d known about parenting when your children were younger?
I had Tori and Tres and 17 and 19. There is a lot I wish I had known! I guess looking back now I remember always being afraid I couldn’t be enough for them. I was too young, too inexperienced, not financially stable. I wish someone would have told me to stop trying to BE. Listening to my kids stories now, I realize the things they remembered during my newness of a mom had nothing to do with anything they were not able to physically be given. They remember that I was always there.
Is there anything about your family that might surprise people to know?
I am not sure this is a surprise but we love music and dancing. We all also have a blanket issue. Each of us has a favorite blanket that no one else is allowed to touch. On movie nights we all gather in the living room wrapped up in our blanket to watch a movie. In the mornings you would see the kids blankets littered around the spot they first walk to after waking up.
What you do and why ?
TW:I am a nurse because I find it rewarding helping others.
What does inclusion mean to you?
TW: Allowing every child no matter their ability to be allowed the basic right to learn in a classroom with their peers. Tres was blessed in elementary school and middle school to be in “normal” classrooms. He looked at himself as a normal student with the same goals as his peers. He wanted to do well. He wanted to be on the honor roll. He did not want to be reminded every day that he was different. The expectation for children in segregated classrooms is much lower than the normal standards. Much of learning takes place in an environment that is rich in experiences. Many children that are differently abled, including Tres, do not understand some parts of life, not because they can’t understand, but because they were not given the opportunity to experience it. Inclusion also teaches all children the concept of community. Everyone has unique abilities and disabilities we just can’t always see them. No matter what the ability everyone deserves to be treated and respected as a person. We all make community better be reaching out and helping those who are having a difficult time. A student great with math may be able to explain a problem to Tres that he is struggling with. In turn, someone trying to figure out how to create a presentation on a power point slide could be helped by Tres.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
TW: Perfect happiness is an idea. The more I strive for it the more dissatisfied I get. Happiness for me is teaching myself to see my blessings in every situation. Focusing on all the richness I have in family and friends. Using the resources that God has given us to make other people smile. The less I focus on myself the happier I tend to be.
What’s your most marked characteristic?
TW: It is easy for me to see the good in people.
Which living person do you most admire?
Mother’s Day is coming up and I have been thinking so much about my mom and all the sacrifices she made for my brother, sister and myself. She was a single parent who seemed to always be able to provide the things we needed. I don’t ever remember her giving up on anything. I don’t ever remember hearing her say she couln’t accomplish something she was working towards. Her belief in me never wavered even when I made bad decisions. Even now she expects no less from me than my best. I am so grateful for her examples.
What do you value most in your friends?
TW: I value friends I can be real with. Friends who can love me when I am at my worst, best and all the in between.
What change would you like to see in your lifetime?
TW: I worry about the next generation. Desires are given quickly with little effort or hard work. Media seems to highlight shows that feature lifestyles that do not promote honesty, integrity or character. I would like to see our nation step back and reflect on the outcomes that will be produced by raising children in this type of society…and strive to improve it. What will become of us lead by a generation who does not know the value of hard work?
Do you have a favorite quote?
TW: It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and wisest might err. -Gandhi
Thank you, Tonya!
I’m so grateful for our friendship. How many friends do you have that you could call on a day’s notice about attending a peaceful “demonstration” for civil rights and they are immediately ready to stand with you?
We need this kind of collaboration in our community,in our world. Think of the positive change that can occur when families, self- advocates, and professionals work together .
You can read more from Tonya Whitlock at A Tribe Called Whitlock.