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After receiving kind feedback from readers about her monthly "Lifelong Learning" columns, Lu Sweet has compiled them into a book entitled I'd Rather Sit at the Kids' Table. Some of the profits from each book sold are being donated to the unrestricted scholarship fund at Western Wyoming Community College. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of I'd Rather Sit at the Kids' Table may email Lu Sweet directly at lsweet@wwcc.wy.edu.

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Lifelong Learning - Fish and Trees (October 2014)
By: Dr. Lu Sweet

I have a special needs child. He has a mild form of autism and Asperger's, and he is diabetic. He is a very bright young man and has a great number of strengths and talents even though many tasks remain difficult for him.

When working with Jayson I try to use the analogy of a fish and a tree. Jayson is like a fish that swims in his own special pond. In his pond, he is able to stay afloat and swim very, very well. However, many times in his daily life Jayson is asked to do something that is considered "normal" for others but is difficult or impossible for him. He is asked to "climb a tree".

While many children his age, are "climbing trees", Jayson can't do it. To ask him to do so would absolutely set him up for failure. Even if we provide many modifications for Jayson, he is not going to be able to climb that metaphorical tree. Instead, he is staying afloat in his pond and that's where he needs to be.

The same can be said for all children (and people in general), I believe. We are all unique with our own strengths and weaknesses, our fears and favorites, and our hopes, and goals, and to expect the same from everyone all the time would be a mistake.

Don't get me wrong. As a school educator I was proud to say that I made sure my students, parents and staff knew that the same rules applied to everyone-dress code, behavior expectations, attendance, etc. That's how it should be. I'm talking about allowing our children and others to be who they are and to celebrate them for their abilities as we try not to make them be something they are not.

I will not make my children play basketball just because I did and I loved it. I will not choose their careers paths for them. I will not choose their friends. Instead I will try to instill the qualities of integrity, loyalty, compassion, hard work and dedication in the ways I raise them, so that they will make the right choices for themselves.

I will not expect them to be perfect. In fact, I will make sure they understand that that shouldn't be the goal. No one is perfect. I will help them understand the difference between trying to be THE best and trying to be THEIR best.

Jayson is thirteen years old and just recently learned how to ride his bike without training wheels. He is still very wobbly and puts his feet down at times. So what? I am not comparing his progress with that of anyone else. He is doing just fine, doing his best.

It's "easy" to say this with Jayson, because he has an identified disability, but it should be the same in the ways we look at all people. I believe we need to celebrate what we CAN do and not get hung up on what we CAN'T do. It still means I set goals for myself and encourage my children to do the same. The goals we set are challenging. Sometimes we accomplish them and other times we fall short. We don't dwell on falling short; we simply reevaluate the goal and make any necessary adjustments. Then we try again. Maybe it takes me longer to reach a certain goal of mine, maybe it doesn't. If I get hung up on doing it as well and as fast as "the other guy", then I'm not really focusing on what I can accomplish.

Asking Jayson to play a team sport isn't something he is capable of. He has a hard time just controlling himself. Having Jayson playing in conjunction with others wouldn't be fun for anyone. However, he can practice putting the golf ball with me. It keeps him focused, he enjoys it and no one cares (I don't and he doesn't) if it takes him ten tries to put the ball in the hole.

I try to look at all of my children as fish in their own ponds. Sometimes the ponds flow into a bigger one and they are capable of being in it, and at other times they are doing just fine in their own space. Here's to celebrating the beauty in individualism.



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