on restarts and new beginnings.

Happy New Year. And all the best with that.

(Not so new, parts of this post were published previously here.)

In their schools, Rachel and Janneke have individualized education plans (IEP). The IEP goals, created or renewed each school year, are specific to the girls’ needs and tailored to their strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out what goals are possible and what goals are beyond their reach when no one really knows the extent of their capabilities is daunting.

action shot of Janneke’s IEP meeting

action shot of Janneke’s IEP meeting

I reference those IEPs because it’s almost January, the time of year when many people are determined to make individualized goals (resolutions!) for the new year. The most common relate to health - including but not limited to fitness and weight loss.

Falling short

January seems to hold much hope for these aspirations, but often January’s determination becomes March’s frustration becomes August’s surrender becomes late December’s return to resolve once again. Statistics suggest less than 10% of us actually achieve and hold those resolutions.

Often, resolutions convey what we believe to be ideal, whether we reach that goal or not. Not only does that ideal reflect how we see ourselves, it also filters into how we see others - and what we believe to be normal in our culture.

What is The Ideal?

What happens when we don’t fulfill our resolutions? Does that change how we see ourselves? Does that change how we see others? What are we communicating when we are forever (and in vain) striving for some ideal?

American writer Nicholas Carr references the less-than-authentic self within the context of social media. He writes, “We project an idealized version of the self, formed for social consumption, and the reflection we receive, continually updated, reveals how the image was actually interpreted by society. We… then adjust the projection in response to the reflection, in hopes of bringing the reflection closer to the projected ideal.”

Ideal vs Real
As a mom to two medically-fragile daughters and two neurotypical daughters, I am aware of what is projected as ideal developmental milestones.  I’m also aware that when we view disability only through the lens of a medical model, we see disability as a problem that doesn’t meet milestones and has a preconceived trajectory requiring treatment. The disability needs to be fixed.  

I prefer the social model of disability that says limitations can also lead to possibilities. There are legitimate concerns, but therapy can support a new normal, acknowledging that often there is no “fix.” Understanding disability in a social context means that goals can be made and attained together because we don’t measure with an impossible ideal; we measure according to what is observed and what exists in the realm between possibilities and limitations for each unique person within the context of community.

I wonder if, over time, we both intentionally and inadvertently develop an excessive admiration for an ideal and for a standard of normal, isolating those who don’t fit from those who fit.

Though obvious, we must be reminded: How we see disability… how we see LIFE impacts how we see ourselves and how we see each other.

Disability is a factor in the cult of normalcy.
— Thomas Reynolds, A Vulnerable Communion

(photo credit for thumbnail: Emily Pot)