Special needs

"You were an exceptional child that needed exceptional care"

In this touching essay, one mom looks back at raising her daughter, who was born with developmental delays.

By Susie Sokol, Maclean's
"You were an exceptional child that needed exceptional care"

Talya with her mother, Susie. Photo: Courtesy of Susie Sokol

My dear daughter, you are almost 36 years old, but chronological age is not significant to you. You were born with global developmental delays and our lives have been a roller coaster ever since. You were an exceptional child that needed exceptional care.

At the age of one, the doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children said that you would not talk or walk. I am delighted to report to those doctors that you are able to do both—you swear like a truck driver and have been rollerblading on our street in Thornhill, Ont., since you turned nine.

In Winnipeg, where we lived until you were six years old, the local principal put you in a mainstream kindergarten class. You taught one very experienced teacher, who was near retirement, that leaving glue, scissors and some paper in front of each child would not be an effective learning exercise. You challenged and transformed her teaching methods by demonstrating that the strengths of each individual child had to be considered.

It was an encouraging and positive school year, only I was a little taken aback when the teacher thanked me for letting you come to class with mismatched socks. Turns out, she used your socks to teach the rest of the kids a lesson on “how to match” objects.

We worked so hard on each milestone—learning how to stand, how to use the toilet and how to speak. It was always a slow and steady process, which made each accomplishment that much sweeter. Although daily life was demanding, I watched your development with great pride, delight and humour.

By the time you were a teen, your industrious nature came through. When I refused to buy you Coca-Cola, you walked to the local bakery and asked the owner for a toonie. Then you walked to Mac’s Milk to buy the pop and drank it before you came home. You quickly realized that you could buy more Cokes with five-dollar bills, and the owner of the bakery continued to provide you with the financial support for your addiction. I did not know whether I should praise you for your resourcefulness or punish you.

You are empathetic. You volunteered at a seniors’ home for two years for their weekly concert; you held hands and danced with each person. For a year, you spent time one morning a week at a daycare where the children gathered around you as soon as you entered the room. You also helped at a food bank, “so everyone will have food,” you’d say.

You are motivated. You started to read at the age of 28 and your goal is to read one of your 35 Harry Potter books. Occasionally, your determination proved futile. I’d ask you to go to sleep as I passed your room and caught you turning the pages in the dark. But you continued on.


And your sociable nature continues to work its magic. A few years ago, we went to see a movie, and when we entered an elevator, the tall fellow who towered over everyone said, “Hi Talya!” with real excitement. When we enter any local store, there is always someone who knows you.

When you were little and vulnerable, I wanted to attach you to my hip to protect you from the unkindness of the world. But I knew I had to propel you forward, toward your own individual journey. Now, the same feelings have returned; I am anxious and frightened to let you stray from my maternal cloak of security.

Talya, sometime in the next two years, you will be moving from your familiar childhood home to your very own supported independent living arrangement.

When I think of you and your next adult stage, there is a tsunami of feelings that consume me—delight, apprehension, fulfillment, gratification, worry and astonishment that we have reached this juncture. I recognize that you can advocate for yourself and you are prepared for this shift, but I am not sure I am. We will exchange roles, Talya, and I ask that you gently help me get through this period of transition.

Go forth Talya, and take every advantage of your beautiful and adventurous life.

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