Focus on Abilities – Not Disability

By Lisa Sexton
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Helping a child with special needs navigate obstacles and opportunities.

My son, Tyler, had the heart, dreams and mind of an active boy. But his body wasn’t cooperating. The doctors painted a bleak picture of what his future held. The diagnosis: cerebral palsy (CP). They said he would be blind, mentally disabled and never walk. It was a lot for first-time parents to absorb.

I learned early on that my attitude affected how my son reacted to adversity. Through Ty’s 16 surgeries, months of hospital care and years of physical therapy, I had to make a daily choice to rely on God for strength.

My husband, Kevin, and I didn’t know exactly what Ty was capable of at the time, but we knew he deserved to realize his full potential. Today, who he is and what he has accomplished are more than we could have ever imagined.

Guiding Ty toward success began with a simple decision: to focus on his abilities rather than disability. As we encouraged Ty to pursue his natural curiosities, he began discovering what brought him joy.

From an early age, Ty was active and interested in sports. But because CP hinders his ability to walk, we didn’t expect him to be a basketball star like his dad. So we found an option that highlighted Ty’s strengths and worked despite his weaknesses — swimming.

The weightless effect of the water gave Ty freedom. Eventually, swimming led to scuba diving, an activity he and his dad now enjoy together. Despite being told that he would never be able to scuba dive, Ty is a Certified Diver Medic, one of the highest qualifications in scuba diving.

Throughout his growing up years, we also focused on developing Ty’s talents rather than defending his rights. My husband and I were careful not to pick unnecessary battles or fight for Ty to be included in activities that weren’t a good fit for him.

We knew that constant attention to what Ty couldn’t do would cause him to develop a chip on his shoulder. So we modeled the belief that our circumstances don’t define our attitudes. In many ways, Ty’s disability kept our priorities in check and helped him to focus on his God-given talents.

From the time Ty was young, we looked for areas of study that interested him and encouraged him to pursue them. This was especially true in the field of science because of his natural ability and curiosity. After years of hard work, Ty graduated from medical school, with specialties in pediatrics and hyperbaric medicine.

Ty often reminds Kevin and me that his “dare to dream” philosophy took root at home. He says it best: “I have learned to view what others may see as obstacles as my opportunities. This mindset, instilled in me by my parents, is the foundation for my confidence. Through their support and God’s grace, what were once stumbling blocks have become stepping stones.”

I’ll admit that our positive parenting decisions came after Kevin and I faced a pivotal question: At what point would we choose to be content?

There were always surgeries and procedures to improve Ty’s quality of life, but there were also experimental treatments that enticed us with the promise of a “miracle” cure. We could have put years of time and energy into medical options alone. Kevin and I had to evaluate whether we were trying to fix our son or guide him toward realizing God’s purpose for his life. That honest reflection helped us keep our focus on what was most beneficial for Ty.

When our journey first began more than 25 years ago, we didn’t expect Ty to dramatically defy the doctors’ predictions for his life. Honestly, we would still be proud of our son if he hadn’t. But we decided that a diagnosis would not be the final word. Ultimately, it was up to our son to discover what he could do.

n some ways, Ty’s disability has given us the ability to see and appreciate each other’s strengths. It has also helped us to realize that we all have disabilities. Some are just more obvious than others.

© 2012 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Lisa Sexton

Lisa Sexton is an author, speaker and Bible study leader. She currently works with parents of handicap children and has the privilege of sitting on the board of directors for the Bay Area pregnancy center. Lisa and her husband, Kevin, have two children.

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