Like most moms of a special needs child, I love the poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. Her words perfectly describe the journey of raising a child with a disability. It likens this experience to getting on a plane destined for your dream vacation in Italy only to find out you ended up in Holland. A little less flashy perhaps, but a place filled with windmills and tulips and wonderful people you may never have met in Italy.
Last I checked, Grant had nine “ologists.” So I figure I am kinda like the mayor of Holland. And I have a lot of neighbors. The CDC estimates that the number of children affected by an autism spectrum disorder alone is 1 in 110.
And as a proud resident of Holland, there is one thing I always focus on when I have a day where it is hard to stay positive. And that is to concentrate on the can and not the can’t.
Because I have noticed that too often when a child is referred to as “special needs,” the focus is almost always on what he can’t do. He can’t speak at an age-appropriate level, he can’t walk as early as other children, or he can’t make eye contact with others. My take is we should instead focus on what they can do. And I am not alone in that feeling. The teachers, therapists and other caregivers that love these amazing kiddos agree.
Because if you open your eyes and your hearts, these kids can change your life. They can make you appreciate the little things like finding an acorn at the playground. In short, they can make you a better person just by knowing them. And when they do, finally, on their own timetable, take that first step or make eye contact, they can make your heart grow three sizes in a second.
Yeah, they can do all that and more. Because here in Holland, that’s just how we roll.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go.
Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills … and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy … and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But … if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.