This is not the only example of cutting-edge science confirming what might be termed “folk wisdom.” Of course, no one is ready to claim that they have disproved the notion that “wishing doesn’t make it so.” But researchers like Dr. Kubzansky may soon help us understand exactly why and how it is that in some contexts—and parenting a child with challenges may be one of them—focusing on the positive can indeed influence the way things turn out.
If you’re the parent of a child with significant delays who just endured another parent’s boasting about their little prodigy, or if you learned of yet another kid’s birthday party your special needs child was not invited to, all this is going to be irritating, or worse. If it’s one of those days, you would do well to stop reading this and pick up Barbara Ehrenreich’s withering critique of optimism, Bright Sided. Ehrenreich began writing the book as a response to what she experienced as the absurd and unrealistic expectation that she remain relentlessly upbeat during debilitating treatment for breast cancer. She has a point: No sane person is happy all the time, no engaged parent lives a worry-free life, and those whose child is more complex than most simply have that much more to keep them up at night.
If your son or daughter is delayed or dis-regulated and it never affects your positive outlook on life, I salute you.
It seems safe to say that being a parent is a known risk factor for sleepless nights, and that when disability is involved it only gets more difficult to close your eyes at night without dwelling on the risks and uncertainties that lie ahead.
If we are now learning more about the power of optimism, we are also living through an age of revelations about what is possible for children who were once thought to have limited options. Low expectations, it has often been remarked, can be a form of bigotry. As new insights and strategies of care show us how we can help young people progress despite significant challenges, that notion becomes increasingly relevant.
In fact, it’s enough to make you optimistic about the future. That, we are now learning, is a very good thing.