What does a challenged kid really mean?
I have always wondered, who qualifies as a “challenged” kid? Society likes to use labels and there are several that have sadly become commonplace nowadays:

1- Disabled: I never really liked this particular one. I’ve seen these so-called “disabled” kids displaying abilities that we don’t have. From their perspective, we are the ones who are disabled as well. So, I suppose, being disabled is very relative. Every person has different abilities from the other and this is what maintains harmony and diversity in life. If I can’t climb a mountain, or play the piano or be a working mom, will society label me as disabled? I guess not.. then why call a child who can’t walk disabled? He just can’t walk like us, that’s all. He just does things differently from us. We all do things differently from each other. A “challenged” kid might need to read a word 150 times to be able to understand it but in the end he will understand it. He might need to practice walking for years before he can walk or maybe he won’t, but he will still find a way to move around.

Tala had the habit of stuffing her mouth with food until she choked on it because the receptors in her mouth didn’t send a signal to her brain that it was full, so the brain didn’t give her the order to stop putting more food in her mouth. Tala simply needed to consume smaller portions of food at a time until she learned how to eat slowly. I have to remind her to stop and swallow. She has gotten better with time. But it doesn’t mean that this is a disability. On the contrary, it is a privilege that we were lucky to be born with, without working hard for it like she is. So I decided to remove the word disabled from my daily vocabulary. At least, I’m trying.

2- Abnormal: This is the same as “disabled”, maybe even worse. When met first met Tala’s genetics doctor and I used the word “abnormal”, he asked me, “Can you define normal?” Indeed, what is normal? And who is normal? I pondered about his question a lot. Diversity on Earth is what keeps it going, everything is normal in it’s own way without comparing it to anything else. Every creature on Earth developed certain adaptations to be able to survive, these adaptations are normal and specific to each creature. There would be no harmony in life if we are all the same. We wouldn’t learn anything if everything was exactly the same. What we call “challenged” kids are normal just the way they are. They’ve learnt to adapt to the limitations and socially prescribed roles we’ve created for them. A blind child will find a way to adapt to his physical limitation and not only survive, but live his life. Therefore, he’s normal. However, when we keep telling him he’s blind, he can’t be like us, we are the ones going against nature, we are being abnormal by denying one of the most fundamental laws of nature: to adapt and evolve for the sake of survival. It is his most basic right to want to adapt to his inability to see which society doesn’t have the right to deny. Ever since I started of thinking of it from a different perspective, the word “abnormal” no longer made sense to me, so I have stopped using it.

3- Retarded: This word is simply too insulting and demeaning to warrant an explanation or discussion.

4- Special needs: I used this word a lot and still do sometimes because I got used to it but then I came across a video of Down’s syndrome kids talking about why we call them special needs. I thought to myself “what does Tala need?” She needs to be loved, cared for, she needs to play, eat, drink, sleep, go to school, be happy, have friends. None of the things I mentioned above are particularly special. Isn’t that we all need?

Someone might argue that they need facilities, they need special cars , they need ramps. That’s why we call them special needs children . Well, I don’t think anyone who lives higher than the second floor would deny that an elevator is useful, even if he can climb the stairs. But an elevator will make your life easier. Can anyone survive without a smart phone these days? I highly doubt it. It may be a luxury but take away smart phones and the internet and the world would stop. So does it mean that we have special needs because we need the internet? We all have needs and some of them are not even essential for survival. They are pure luxury.. so when a child needs a ramp to move from one place to the other how dare you call that a special need? That term has also fallen off my list.

5- Challenged kid: I love this term because it’s so accurate on so many levels. A challenged child is not just challenged alone. He challenges everyone around him. Tala challenged me to live a normal life, to accept her, to love her the way she is, to talk about her without feeling ashamed, to work around her challenges and make our life with her happier than without her. She challenged our families to embrace us, to work with us in making her life easy and happy. She’s challenging every person reading about her right now to spread awareness and reach out to those who are ignorant or in denial of the existence of challenged kids. She challenged other kids to learn compassion and embrace the differences between one another. Tala challenged her therapists to work harder and find a way to get her to where she should be, and find different techniques to focus her attention. She challenged me as a teacher, she made me question myself, “Do I give up on my students if they don’t understand or rebel or for just being a teenager?”

Challenged kids make you look yourself in the eye and see who you really are. Are you a fighter? Are you compassionate? Do you have the patience and strength to go the extra mile? Are you strong enough to face challenges everyday and still have a smile on your face and have the kindest heart ever, just like those kids do? Some kids live in constant pain. I’ve seen them and when I smile at them they smile back. How do they do that? There are kids who can’t control their movements at all so they keep slapping themselves or banging their heads on the wall, The mother of one of those kids told him,”I love you”, and he simply placed his head on her chest and banged on it instead. That mother explained to me that that was his way of saying I love you too. How do they still have the capacity and strength to love? It tore my heart in pieces when I saw this scene but then it made me stronger, more forgiving, more loving. It challenged me, it challenged my feelings towards a lot of things.

These kids are beautiful, loving, energetic souls trapped in a body they can’t control, a body that doesn’t function the way they want it to. Their beautiful souls create the impossible. They fight and when they don’t win, they fight some more. Don’t put them down or tell them they can’t win. Instead, encourage them, love them, make their lives easier. These kids  are the perfect example of how one’s body is, in the end, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It is the soul that matters, the soul that often gets lost when we start living like machines.

God bless all of our children.

Photo Credit: Strava.com