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How to run "The Magnificent Milestone Mile" and win

For the last several months, I have been asking my seven-year-old special needs son if he’s ready to learn how to tie his shoes yet. I know that motor skill disorder is a serious roadblock for him and pushing him to learn a new motor skill only makes his anxiety spark up like a wild fire on a hot summer day. So I try not to push it. I don’t always have enough water on hand to put the fire out, and I doubt the local fire department will come to my meltdown rescue if called upon. I don’t ever play with fire around here.

In the past, meeting all milestones even somewhat close to their age requirements was the key to crossing the finish line of what I like to call “The Magnificent Milestone Mile.” The longer it took my son to learn a skill, the harder I pushed, the more I cried, the more he cried and we ended up getting nowhere. For the last week, I had decided to say nothing about tying shoes. Due to my suppressions, I have been having nightmares of his shoe laces coming untied next year in the second grade and all the kids on the playground laughing as he helplessly runs to his aide to tie his shoes. I can hear their snickers in my waking hours and I never want him to hear them as well, so I’ve secretly spent countless hours this week researching tips for teaching a special needs child how to tie their own shoes.

Little did I know, I have been wasting my time all along.

I was half awake when my son brought the iPad to my bedside this morning. He looked me square in the eye and stated, “Hey mom, after googling several YouTube videos, I am ready to learn how to tie my shoes.”

I, on the other hand, was speechless. I know I was on my laptop every time I conducted my shoe tying research and not the iPad, so he obviously googled these videos all on his own. As I stood there, in awe at my son’s ability to utilize the internet and declare his readiness to complete a new motor skill task, he ran downstairs to bring up his shoes from the coat closet. By the time I had my first sip of coffee, my son was attempting to master shoe tying all on his own in the middle of my bedroom floor. It suddenly occurred to me that it really didn’t matter if my son could tie a shoe string or not, because he was smart enough to know that if Google is his mother’s best friend … it was his too. Once again, my little man has taught me a valuable life lesson we can all learn from.

It doesn’t really matter what your child can’t do in this moment, because everything they can do is right before your eyes. If you spend too much time focusing on the milestones they haven’t managed to meet yet, you are sure to miss all the unique accomplishments that they call their own today. In the special needs world, every step taken on “The Magnificent Milestone Mile” is like receiving a gold medal at the Olympics, and it shouldn’t matter if we ever make it to the finish line or not. As special needs parents, we all will have earned enough gold medals in our lifetime to put the Guinness World Record holders for most victories in the Olympics to shame. If we can just learn how to take on this new perspective and celebrate even the tiniest of our child’s accomplishments, we will always win the race in the end.

— Michelle O’Neill, AHSS Skills Coach and Mother of a Special Needs Child (plus two!)

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