Parents, Children, And The Search For Identity

Sue Barry, known increasingly around the world as Stereo Sue, has been an unparalleled champion for the unique contributions of optometrists to improving the vision and well-being of individuals with strabismus.  It was not until I read the manuscript of her book, Fixing My Gaze, that I realized the extent of her struggles as a child in school.  Sue alluded to this again in her blog about The Power of Mothers, in the context of Jillian’s Story.

Can you take a guess at who the cute little girl is being held by her mother here?  That is Temple Grandin, and there is no way at the point in time of the photo that her mom could have envisioned what was in store for a child who would become an icon in the Autism community.  Temple’s mother is Eustacia Cutler, now well into her ’80s but still sharp as a tack, and in a blog about listening to her message of hope, Jean Winegardner wrote:

She didn’t offer easy answers—probably because there are none. Each parent of a child with autism must beat their own path, as each person with autism must do. “There are no answers,” Cutler said. “There are only choices.” Each of us in the room jotted down her words on our notebooks, wiped away a tear, or thought of ways to apply her wise and witty words to our own lives.

See, Cutler already did what most of the parents in that room want to do: She helped raise an independent, happy, successful, autistic person. She is hope personified. Not all of our special kids will grow up to get doctorate degrees and live independently. But some of them will. And many of them will be happy, healthy, and successful in their own ways.

As Cutler said of her daughter last week, “Temple is not cured. Temple is fulfilled.”

What more can any of us want for our children?

I was reminded of this while reading Andrew Solomon’s powerful new book Far From The Tree.  The book has garnered significant attention for its poignant and personalized insights into a wide variety of diversities, and you can get a flavor for Solomon’s wisdom in this interview in Salon magazine.  The jacket liner notes of the book highlights Solomon’s writing about families experiencing deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, prodigies, and transgenderism.

Yet on page 6, I was struck by Solomon speaking frankly about a way of being that might seem to pale in comparison to the challenges posed by the conditions above: Dyslexia.  Solomon writes:

“I had dyslexia as a child; indeed I have it now.  I still cannot write by hand without focusing on each letter as I form it, and even when I do so, some letters are out of order or omitted.  My mother, who identified the dyslexia early began to work with me when I was two.”

Later Solomon continues: “It’s terrifying to me to think that without my mother’s sustained intervention, I might never have learned fluency in letters; I am grateful every day for the sufficient resolution of my dyslexia.”

I cannot tell you how often we see children in our office who would have fallen through the cracks were it not for the determination of their mothers to look beyond the surface; to overcome superficial determinations that everything about their child’s vision was fine.  We strongly encourage both parents to be present during our conferences about their child because an understanding and supportive father facilitates a child’s success.  Even when vision therapy is not prescribed or undertaken, insights about what makes a child tick are often gained as doctor and parents exchange test results and observations.  Ultimately our collaboration becomes part of the child’s search for identity.




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