The most important lesson I’ve learned from Mr. Rogers

In our job as early interventionists, we work with children and their families as long as they need us from age birth to three years old.  After three years old, in most, but not all cases, they transition to a public preschool program that offers therapies and instruction.
Three years of working with a child and their family often seems to go very quickly and the bond formed is pretty outstanding.  We get the opportunity to become an extension of the family and are in tune with daily routines, extended family and friends, struggles, joys, dreams, and even the quirks of the family dog!
Some people work three years on a building project, a financial deal, or meeting a long -term sales goal. We get to work on building a happy child that can play, learn, and be safe out of their home and parents who feel comfortable with their child trying these new skills, without their parents’ presence, for often the first time.  If both occur, our shared “masterpiece” is complete. 
It’s a very emotional time when we “lose our kids.” Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all triumph and happy tears along the way. We have seen too many tantrums to count, have been hit, bit, and thrown up on.  We’ve wracked our brains at bedtime trying to think of that perfect toy or object to motivate a certain child or how to chose the right words to get through to a parent that doesn’t yet value following through with suggestions we leave behind. But these things pale in comparison to the pride that is felt when that child says their first meaningful word instead of screaming in frustration, can take those steps to get the toy themselves, or can touch their parent’s face to show love and appreciation in their own way.
When the time comes to transition a child, I share some of the emotions of the parent, but in a different way I am sure. I find myself asking appropriate question to the skills I teach as a physical therapist like, did I think of how they’ll do getting around the classroom?  In and out of their chair? To the cafeteria?  And I find myself asking myself questions unrelated to my “PT role.” I wonder how the child will do on the bus ride? Will they be scared? Will they like new friends or will they be overwhelmed?  And then I worry about their sweet parents…have I prepared them the best I could? I am certainly a worrier of others and I am working on it! But what you can see is that these children become like our own and their parents by extension are as well.  I am fiercely protective of them and pray for their happiness and success years after the have left our program.
I guess that’s why when parents tell me about an experience they have had out in the community, where someone says something about their child that they take offensively, it breaks my heart. Usually people don’t mean harm, and parents for the most part know this, but when you hear “What’s wrong with him?” It’s hard to resist replying “Nothing, What’s wrong with you!”
I’ve always loved Mr. Rogers. A family passed the quote below along to me years ago and I’ve always thought it was so accurate…
Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of the people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who are not able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” …Fred Rogers
Mr. Rogers is so right!  So when you see one of “my kids” out in public, model to your kids an appropriate way to behave.  Look the parent and child in the eyes and say hello instead of looking away.  If you are curious about the child, treat them the way you would any other child. Ask their name, their age, and what they like to do for fun.  If you know a child that can’t see or walk, explain that in simple terms to your own children and talk through ideas of how your child can play with them. Maybe find cool things for a child without vision to touch. Play ball with the child who can’t walk.  Modeling these examples for your own children will teach them to be accepting and compassionate people who have an understanding that ALL people learn and play in different ways.
I’ve found that children with so-called “disabilities” often significantly excel in areas other than where they are challenged. A blind child is the first to notice my new perfume or wristwatch. A child who has trouble moving is the best 3 year- old conversationalist I’ve ever met!   Look beyond what makes children different, and look to what makes them unique.  In doing so you’ll learn an incredible lesson that can often help you with your own “disability.” Each time I do, I’m blown away by what I discover.
0 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I really loved your blog. It's so wonderful that you are a huge influence on these beautiful children and their families. When I see a little one in a wheelchair, I do look them in the eye and comment on something. Even if they aren't able to look me in the eye, without touching them with my hand, they know I've touched them in a special way. God bless your work and God bless all who love and attempt to help these beautiful gifts from God.


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