*This column will post in two parts 2.1 & 2.2

After posting part 1 of this article I had a very interesting conversation with my mother. While much of it consisted of her experience, and advice from being a parent of a child with special needs, I was more impressed with her knowledge of the game, Angry Birds.

In case you missed it here is the comment she posted on the first article of this series:


Angry Birds?

When I saw this article pop up on Facebook, the phrase “Angry Birds” immediately got my attention and curiosity. Now you know at once I am past the age of 70, and although I am computer literate, I am not game savvy. So as I read this article my thought was how this phrase connected to the topic of “special kids.” I quickly did a Google search and found that Angry Birds were indeed not angry, they just wanted to conquer something or someone. Apparently this game is quite popular with all ages, so now I needed to understand the concept. As I continued reading the game options, I realized it sounded much like the game of life. We are all different, we move forward, life is a continuous challenge, and we all learn how to play the game in our own unique way. That indeed makes everyone
special. Never underestimate what any child is capable of achieving. The tag names have changed through the years – learning disabled, slow learner, retarded, and stupid, have advanced to more specific terms or labels. None have any value if we forget that the most significant tag is simply – a child.

Teaching educators to understand children with needs is challenging. Sadly teaching methods have not progressed. Having dealt with this situation many years ago, and being aware of today’s continuing challenges, I have a few very simple suggestions. First, remember no one will fight for your child but you. Second, you know your child better than anyone else, don’t back down from anything or anyone, each fight
gives you the knowledge to provide the love and support your child will need as they grow older and find their place and passion in life. Years from now, you will look back and be able to say with unbelievable pride - that is my son (or daughter) who once carried that label and look where it has taken him.


Love Mom

Thank You

Actually I want to thank all of you who posted in response to that article. It is because of your feedback and advice that I will continue writing this series.  My hope is that you all keep sharing your stories and ideas so that these posts will be able to help and guide many others like myself.  I’m not an expert on children with "special needs" and I can only share from my own experience as a father, but as you can tell from my mother’s post, I was and am a child with special needs.

As my mother spoke about the different colored birds, why there are pigs, and about all the other background information associated with the game – it hit me. For me to write these posts to the best of my ability I need to share some of my background information. This will expose any and all bias’s I may have with any of the topics on which I touch. I will be writing from my experience as a father, a child, and someone who is learning as much as I can to help my children and myself become strong(er).

Big Weights


In the strength game I’ve always said the best way to find advice is to look to those:

  1. Who have done and continue to live it
  2. Who have coached it, and;
  3. Where they have learned.

If they have lifted BIG weights, taught others to lift BIG weights, have trained with others who lift BIG weighs, or were coached by those who know how to move BIG weights, the odds are they WILL get you to lift BIG weights.

When applied to special needs experience and education, I have points one and three somewhat covered. It is my hope the readers will help fill in any blanks, correct where I may be wrong, and offer better suggestions for everyone.

One Tip


This tip has been, and always will be the HARDEST parenting skill on which I need to work.  This tip is: I am NOT my son and he is NOT me. We are two different people and his experiences will not be the same as mine; they will be his own. I want SO badly for him to not to go through the things I did, that it’s taken me a long time to see that he won’t. His will be different. Unless you are in a similar position, this is a hard thing to grasp.  There are many advantages to my background that allow me to better understand what he is thinking and going though; my experience of it all allows me to look at things from a different perspective than most the educators and doctors with whom we’ve worked. Sometimes signals in my mind get crossed and my wife must remind me that he isn’t me.  There have been (and will be more) times where I KNOW the signals are crossed and need to step away from the situation completely; if I stay it will not be for the best interest of my child. This skill takes time, patience and practice.

This excerpt will provide some of my background information as discussed above.

Excerpt from Raising the Bar

Chapter 1, Faith

“It is inevitable that some defeat will enter even the most victorious life. The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated...it is finished when it surrenders.”

—Ben Stein

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really go- ing to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

—Wilma Rudolph

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”

—Marilyn vos Savant


School Days

It was a typical fall day. Leaves littered the ground, a cool breeze gently rattled through the trees, and billowing clouds sat high in a vast, blue sky. The sun was weak, casting dappled light across the grass.

The school bell rang, marking the end of another day. I grabbed my jacket and lunch pail and found my usual spot in the back of the line. Released from our daily educational grind, I exited the back door with the rest of the kids. Today would be unlike any other day. I took the same path home as always. I walked the sidewalk from the school and then cut through a series of yards until I reached my own.

As I made my way into the first yard, I noticed a few kids from my neighborhood playing in one of the other yards a few houses up. This was the yard that I needed to cut through to get home. I recognized two of these kids. They were both three years older than me. I had never seen the third one before.

Having been picked on and beaten up most of my childhood for being learning disabled, I was used to the teasing and name calling from the two kids I knew. So, I kept to my route and tried to cut through the yard where they were playing.

Head Down, Eyes Forward

As soon as I came into view, the name calling started. “Here comes retard boy.” “Look, there’s Tater Tot.” I kept my head down and my eyes looking forward, the same way I’d done many times before.

It started with tightness around my ankles. They’d tossed a tetherball rope around my shins, the same way cowboys do when they’re roping cattle. The ball whipped around my legs several times, coming to a stop only when I fell to the ground. I tried to pull myself to my knees, but they jerked the rope, causing me to fall flat, face first in the grass. The battle had begun.

I tried to get up, but they pulled the rope and dragged me back down. The pulling and dragging were constant. It didn’t stop. I flopped around from my front to my back trying to get my legs free of the ropes. As I fought, the other two kids jumped on me, kicking and punching me with all they had. I have no idea how long this went on, but there wasn’t a single spot on my body that hadn’t been punched or kicked.

I remember looking up and seeing other kids standing off to the side laughing and pointing. Slam! Someone pressed my face firmly into the ground, hindering the scent of grass and mud that tried to fill my nostrils. Blood drained from my nose onto the grass, and a blue and white striped, Puma tennis shoe kicked the side of my prone torso. There were cheers in the background. I tried to cover up, but the Puma raced toward me again, colliding with my nose this time. The taste of my own blood filled my mouth.

Then, something incredible happened. All the physical pain simply stopped. I told myself that there was no way they’d see my pain. There was no way they were going to know that they were hurting me. There was no way in this world I was going to let them have an ounce of satisfaction by showing them a single tear or by uttering a single cry for help.

I found contentment in the pain, and I embraced it. I anticipated the next punch and the next kick to see if they had the strength to hit and kick harder than they had the time before.

As I withdrew myself, they became increasingly dissatisfied with how things were going. The dragged me around the yard, hoping to spark a reaction from me. My face rolled through dog shit, but I wasn’t going to let them know that I was in any pain at all. All of it was held inside me, and it became my power.

Blood, Sweat, and Grass

After what seemed to me like forever, they stopped. One of the on- lookers came over and offered to help me up. I looked up at him with blood, sweat, grass, and crap on my face and told him to get away from me. I refused his help. I didn’t want his help to get up.

I pulled my knees to my chest and untied the rope from around my ankles. I rolled onto my side, first putting one knee on the ground and then the other. I placed one foot flat on the ground and pulled myself up. I stood with pride, knowing that I’d displayed no pain and given satisfaction to no one despite taking the worst beating of my life. The physical pain was intense, but I was able to displace myself and make it go away. The emotional pain, however, was a different story altogether.


I’m pausing at this point because I want you to think of some of the bad things that have happened in your life. For me, when I think about these things, I think of rage, vengeance, anger, and hate. I can’t speak for you, but these are the emotions that come to my mind. I hated those kids for what they’d done.

I’ve never forgotten that day, and I never will. I used to think of it as the day the stupid learning disabled kid got what he deserved. They’d absolutely beaten the crap out of me, and it made me think about how helpless and worthless I was. I thought about how weak I was and how I didn’t have the strength to fight back. I thought of the fear I felt every time I saw those kids again and how afraid I was every time I walked past that house.

Take a moment right now to think back to one of the worst things that has ever happened in your life. Did someone close to you leave you for another? Were you cheated on or betrayed? Did you suffer the loss of a loved one? Were you beaten up like I was? Or worse?

We all have great pains that we suffer in our lives, and no one’s pain is greater or worse than anyone else’s. We all have our horrific moments, and we’d all love to know why they happened to us. Why me? What did I do to bring this on? We play the blame game, but we’ll never get any answers to our questions because there aren’t any. The answers we’re looking for aren’t found in the reasons why. They’re found in our own fears.

Most of us try not to think back on these times because doing so scares the crap out of us. I’ll bet that when I asked you to think back, you didn’t, and if you did, you were emotionally detached. The pain we associate with these moments is usually just too much. However, some important questions need to be asked. Is this pain influencing your life today? Could these events still be causing pain in your life? Or is this yet another issue you’re avoiding because you don’t want to know the answer?

Are you guided by the way you think about these past experiences? If so, is it in a positive way? Or are these things holding you back from the life you really want? How could you know any of this if you’ve never thought about it? Maybe it’s time to revisit some of these moments from a different perspective so that you can learn to overcome them. Will they move you closer to or further away from your dreams?

Understand This

To do this, you have to understand one thing. The unfavorable, adverse, grim, and hurtful losses in our lives shape who we become, and the excellent, fantastic, and awesome times are the rewards that we receive for being who we are. Confused?

We all have good times, and we all have bad times. The key is to understand how to use the bad times to help shape who you are in a positive way. This is far easier than most of us think it is because it all really boils down to how we decide to look back on these events.

I still have a hard time doing this sometimes, but I have yet to find one bad experience that didn’t yield a positive outcome. This includes even the very worst of my experiences. I’m able to see how each one has shaped who I’ve become in either a negative or positive way. The way events have affected me has always been based entirely upon how I recall them.

When I look back at these events and try to view them in a positive light, my life is always enhanced. To put things in training terms, learn- ing to remember them by viewing memories through a different prism feels like a weighted vest has been unbuckled and thrown from my body. By changing how I view things, my life has changed, and I’m in a state of constant growth as a person.

When someone first suggested this, I thought it was bull. Stuff happens and we have to deal with it, right? Sometimes we’ll never know why an event occurs. Sometimes we don’t need to know. I don’t know a single person who’s had a golden life without pain. We all have it, we’ve all had it, and we’ll all have more of it. This is life, so deal with it.

That’s what I would have said years ago, but what does “deal with it” actually mean? For me, it meant pushing it inside, filing it away as bad stuff that happened, and moving on. Then I’d forget about it. But do we really forget? If you were hurt or scared as a result of something happening, would you do that something again? What if it didn’t yield the same result the second time around?

In powerlifting, missing a weight doesn’t mean it’s impossible to lift that weight if we try it again. If we still can’t lift it, we can try it again on another day. And if we still can’t lift it, we learn from it, get stronger, and come back to do it on yet another day. This is how a lifter looks at a challenge. The same is true for the negative events in our lives, except missed lifts won’t change how you look at life. They won’t shape who you’ll become the way a traumatic life experience can.

It’s easy to find positives in slightly negative situations that have little influence on who we’ll become. It’s another thing altogether to look at extreme situations in this same light. The process, however, is the same. It’s exactly the same. It all comes down to how you decide to look at it. I’m not saying this is easy because it hasn’t been easy for me. It can take months or years to see positives, but I’m telling you that they’re there. And if you’re willing to look for them, you’ll find them.

Extraordinary Resolve

Face down on the ground, my entire body covered in grass, mud, crap, and blood, I found something in myself that I didn’t have the day before. I found an extraordinary resolve, a drive and a will. I found 
the faith to become stronger, regardless of the situation. With my face in the mud, I found an iron will to not quit and to not give in, regardless of how many times I was kicked or hit. I found strength in myself that I’ve carried throughout my life. This strength has given me faith that no matter how bad situations get or how hard I’m hit, kicked, or abused, I will untie the ropes and pull myself back to my feet strong(er) than before.

That day, in a pile of crap, I discovered a piece of gold. Think about this. If I can turn crap into gold, what can you do?

elitefts™ 2011 Author of the Year

If you have any tips, advice or anything you would like to share PLEASE do so in the comments below.