Helping kids gain from adversity: Inspiration for parents, teachers

By Anne Collier

I just listened to Aimee Mullins’s just-posted TED Talk of last October and thought to myself anyone who loves teaching, young people, and the power of the human spirit would resonate with this. Aimee is an actor, athlete, and model (full bio here) who has not merely overcome and pushed through the adversity of being born without fibula, or shin bones, but used that adversity to find and bring out her in-born potential. She talks about not long ago bumping into the OB-GYN who delivered her in her home town in Pennsylvania and hearing about how, because of her career, he tells his medical students, “In my experience, unless repeatedly told otherwise and if given just a modicum of support, if left to their own devices, a child will achieve.” She adds, “If we can change the current paradigm from one of achieving normalcy to achieving ability or potency, we can release the power of so many more children and invite them to engage their rare and valuable abilities with the community” – the abilities each child has. She later adds something I think my friend Lenore Skenazy over at, kindred spirit Tanya Byron in the UK, and a whole lot of other parents would appreciate: “Our responsibility is not simply shielding those we care for from adversity but preparing them to meet it well.”

Mullins says something important about technology and social networking too (which I feel would resonate with the authors of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out). After reading the dictionary definition of “disability” to the audience, she said: “Our language hasn’t allowed us to get caught up with the changes in our society, many of which have been brought about by technology.” She lists some examples, among them “social-networking platforms [which] allow people to self-identify, to claim their own description of themselves so they can go align with global groups of their own choosing.” Think about this in light of bullying and cyberbullying, where kids identified by others as “handicapped” in any way are often the targets. Social media can help remove or at least delay the labels bullies exploit, giving children some much-needed space and peace for identity exploration. Mullins puts it so eloquently: “Maybe technology is revealing more clearly to us now what has always been a truth: that everyone has something rare and powerful to offer our society and that the human ability to adapt is our greatest asset.” Don’t miss the talk, including the lines Mullins quotes from a 14th Persian poet at the end.

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