Wonderful news: there’s hope for a disabled child.
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Cynthia: Life is never what we expect it to be. And as parents, we sometimes are presented with challenges. The way to overcome those challenges is a dependence on the Lord. I have with me today, Annie Yorty. She had a child who has Down’s syndrome. And that is a whole bunch of stuff because as a nurse, I know that there’s a lot involved in that.
She’s going to talk a little bit about how she raised that child. And this is important because these days, people in many countries are aborting Down’s syndrome babies. It is considered to be by some people not worthy to live, and we believe as Christians that that child is worthy to live, but how do we deal with them?
And that’s the question we’re asking today. Welcome, Annie.
Annie: Hi, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your audience.
Cynthia: Tell me a little bit about what you face and how you overcame that and how you’ve dealt with her issues.
Annie: Well, I have been dealing with these issues for 34 years now.
I find that hard to believe, but Alyssa came into my life 34 years ago, and I could not have been more surprised at the diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. It was a huge shock. It was life changing, like earthquake life, life changing. Before I had her, I had not really known much about the Lord at all.
And God used her and some of her challenges and other things about her that brought me into a much, much closer relationship with him.
Cynthia: I can agree with that. I do have my own disabled child, not Down’s syndrome, but it’s changed my life.
Annie: Life is all about depending on God. And frankly I could not have been more independent of God before I had her.
And he forced me into that position of needing to fall back and look to him and made me uncomfortable in many ways. From the time she was born, I knew nothing about people with disabilities. I did not know anything about Down’s syndrome. And I will say I applied my own self-reliance to that problem early on and found that it had no traction.
Little by little, through one experience after another, God kept showing me and bringing me closer into him. Things like medical questions. With Down’s syndrome, there can be a lot of medical uncertainty. Certainly, there are many, many delays.
So, it caused me to really adjust my worldview. You mentioned a minute ago about how in many countries and including our own, people abort children with Down’s syndrome at alarmingly high rates. I didn’t even know ahead of time, but I would not have considered abortion.
But I learned quickly that I had some perceptions about what makes people valuable that were way, way off base. They were more based on ability. What can a person do versus who they are? So that was a huge process for me to begin with.
Cynthia: I think that’s a really good point because people are valuable because God made them. They are made in his image and it’s easy for us to say, “That disabled child is not very smart or very pretty or very rich and so they’re not worth it.” But that’s not what scripture says.
Annie: Exactly. I’m very much a planner in life and a future oriented person. So, once I kind of grasp the Down’s syndrome thing, then I get into high gear. I laid out sort of a vision for her life to help us just guide the opportunities that we would want for her.
We could kind of aim towards something and that all included inclusion, public school, all of that kind of thing. We went headlong into that plan and then in 3rd grade that plan was just turned upside down.
We had moved, and the public school where we moved was not at all interested in doing any kind of inclusion for Alyssa. And that just wasn’t part of our plan for her. I went through two years of due process with them and ultimately won that case, but God turned my heart towards something else.
I realized that effort was not going to change their heart. She is not going to thrive there because they don’t want her to thrive in the environment that I was hoping for. So, God turned my attention to home schooling. Once I investigated that, I was hooked. And then I spent 16 years homeschooling her and another child.
Cynthia: So, what were some of the difficulties that she had and how did you adjust to accommodate her?
Annie: She has some excellent skills that we could really capitalize on, but she has some pretty serious deficits in the math side of things.
When teaching math, I probably went about that the wrong way for a good amount of time. I did it in a way that made sense to me, but it wasn’t great for her. I wasn’t capitalizing on her strength.
I was focused way more on her weaknesses. We really need to focus on strengths so that they can really feel that success and do what God meant them to do. God did not plan for Alyssa to be any kind of an accountant, a mathematician, but he had other plans for her.
That helps our children see what God made them to do and to be .I really, really struggled with writing for many years. We knew we wanted her to be able to write.
So, we really persevered. Like I said, over the course of years, she had learned to read relatively easily and then writing was so difficult. I figured out she did not learn with phonics. That’s sort of the way I was going about the writing instruction.
Nevertheless, God’s grace just prevailed in all of that. She had previously learned what letters were and things like that, and she could write a letter. If you said, “Write the letter C,” she could write it, but she could not think of a sentence in her mind and then put it on paper.
And when she was in 3rd grade, I mean, we were just slogging through one day after another, just working and working at that. And one day, she just walked out of her room with a piece of paper. And there were three sentences written on that. So, I didn’t do that. It was just God’s grace.
That’s another thing I like to tell moms. It doesn’t all depend on us. We have a lot of responsibility as moms, but it certainly isn’t all in our hands. And sometimes I would get into that fallacy. You get very deep into the weeds and forget it.
God is superimposed over everything that you’re doing. Now Alyssa’s a good writer. She enjoys writing. She wrote a chapter in my book From Ignorance to Bliss.
Cynthia: That’s exciting. That’s good to know. What were some of her strengths?
Annie: Yeah, well, reading certainly was a strength.
She has a vivid imagination. She has ADD, which we don’t often think of as a strength. But her mind works very quickly, and so that’s a strength. She’s very verbal.
She has an extremely high vocabulary. She has read many, many books and that’s where her vocabulary comes from. She’s had many classics and there’s good vocabulary in those.
She likes to write. She likes to read. She has a superb memory. That can be a weakness sometimes, but that’s where her strengths lie.
Cynthia: I didn’t know that anyone like that would have the ability to read classics. I think your idea about focusing on strengths is a wonderful thing, even for people who have normal children.
Annie: I love that. Yes. My son has typical academic abilities and still has strengths and weaknesses. As far as other strengths go, my disabled daughter has a certain empathy for people where I think God uses her to kind of perceive underlying needs that I don’t necessarily notice.
And she connects with God in a way that I don’t. She doesn’t have some of the inhibitions that I might have, or you might have about responding to God. So, I think that’s a strength for her. It throws me out of my comfort zone sometimes, but it’s a strength.
Cynthia: That’s great. What kind of message would you give to a mother who is in that early stage where they’ve just found out they have a child who is disabled?
Annie: I would say, first. It’s normal to feel some grief.
I think most moms feel some grief when they learn their child is disabled. And frankly, at many other times in life at certain developmental stages, we’ll notice differences and our expectations must change. And there’s a certain grieving process that goes on at those times. But, when you first learn of the diagnosis, there’s that grieving process.
We also need to dig in with God. Throw questions at God. It’s, going to be ugly sometimes what you have to say to God, but he’s ready, willing, and able to hear you and respond to you.
And he’s a loving father who will step in and just guide and shepherd you along the way. He carries you. The Bible says he carries you from the time before you were born and into your old age. And I also suggest finding some like-minded people.
We found support groups early on some of them. In fact, many of them were not necessarily Christians and they were kind and helpful. But I think if you can find somebody who’s in the same boat with you, that is a Christian, that will really be good to just support you.
And you do need to ask for help. We lived for a good bit of our time with Alyssa away from family members. We felt a lot of burdens that, we couldn’t just take our kids and get a little bit of a break and that kind of thing.
So, we had to form relationships with other people and try to trade off and talk to people about feelings. Your friends with typical kids won’t necessarily understand or relate to you. So, it’s good if you can find some relationships like that.
Cynthia: I had a friend who had a disabled child, and she came to me one day with some questions. We were able to talk through some solutions that a person who didn’t have a disabled child wouldn’t comprehend at all.
So, it really is good to have people who are in a similar situation. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?
Annie: I want moms to know that each child is a gift from the Lord. There are no mistakes. Your child was designed by God and given to you, and you are the perfect mom for that child. And he wants to just show you what he’s doing in the middle of your circumstances, whatever they are. Isaiah 43:19 says, “God’s doing something new. Will you not perceive it?”
That’s the subject of my blog. I want to help people perceive God in whatever their circumstances, whether they’re wild circumstances, like getting a diagnosis, like Down’s syndrome, or the everyday kind of thing. My heart is to encourage people to see God and what he’s doing in their lives.
I have a podcast called ordinary moms of extraordinary kids. It’s a weekly dose of Bible encouragement for moms. It’s not lengthy, but it’ll give you a little shot of God’s word once a week.