Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dare To Do Your Best:
See It Big, But Keep It Simple

By George M. Graham Jr.

A wise man once taught me a great principle to utilize when I was confronted with an apparent overwhelming obstacle in my life. He told me that I needed to “see it big, but keep it simple.” By endeavoring to heed his advice in numerous difficult situations, I was finally able to comprehend what he meant.

When we are dealing with any of life’s challenges, we should strive to maintain a positive mental attitude, with high 

expectations— “see it big.” Additionally, we must keep in mind that in order to achieve any worthy goal, we must 

take one step at a time to accomplish it— “keep it simple."

If we will put forth the time and effort necessary, while maintaining a positive mental attitude with high expectations, 
we can be more successful. By practicing the principle of “see it big, but keep it simple,” we can more effectively 
deal with stressful situations and overcome obstacles. We can achieve goals and objectives by taking one step at a 

For over 35 years, this advice has been instrumental in helping me in my work with students with disabilities. It has 
helped me to provide encouragement and support to the parents of these students, and it has helped me to provide 
helpful advice when consulting with teachers.

When I began my career in 1975, special education in the public school system was still a relatively new concept. 
There was very limited knowledge and understanding of what special education really entailed.

It has been a long journey to where we are today!

Up until 1975, there was little implementation of special education services in the public school system. In fact, there were some 
disabled students who were not even allowed to attend school because they were perceived as not being capable of being educated. Parents were placed in a position of either keeping their disabled child at home or placing their child in an 

In those early years of special education, the students with disabilities who were allowed to enroll in school were usually 
taught in a separate area of the building or in a separate building all together. I can remember special education classes 
being housed in basements of school buildings or in rooms that were small enough to be closets. It gave the appearance 
that keeping these students separated form the rest of the population was a priority.

Things began to change when in 1975 Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of all Handicapped Children Act) 
which later became known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.) This was among the first of many 
laws to be passed by Congress to help protect and assure that there would be no discrimination of individuals with disabilities. IDEA, more specifically guaranteed that all students with disabilities would have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE.)

Today, students with disabilities are afforded an education under drastically improved circumstances as compared to over
 35 years ago. These strides are due to a variety of reasons that include enacting and implementing laws; the 
lobbying efforts by parents, educators and organizations on behalf of students with disabilities; and the on-going research 
in best practices in special education. These have all helped to contribute to many positive changes in the way services 
are provided to students with disabilities.

As I reflect on my early years in special education, I remember feeling somewhat unprepared and inadequate for the job 
that I was undertaking. Much of what I learned came through trial and error or by observing other educators. I came to 
realize that I was learning about special education as the field of special education was also going through its own 
stages of growth and development.

The purpose of this series of articles is to share some of the basic positive, practical practices that I have learned over 
the years. These are practices that parents can use to help their children, teachers can use to help their students, and students can use to improve themselves. These positive, practical practices are based on my years of experience from four different perspectives.

One perspective is that of a student educated in the public school system. The second perspective is that of an individual with a disability. I have a hearing impairment, and as a result I have to wear hearing aides. Another perspective is 
that of a parent with a child who was diagnosed with ADD at an early age. The last perspective is that of having been an 
educator and an administrator.

All children have basic wants and needs that must be addressed in order for them to be able to grow, develop, and become successful. I believe these positive, practical practices can be implemented in helping students with disabilities to address these basic wants and needs. In fact, they can be implemented to help any child to be more successful.

Anyone who has participated in sports or in any field of the arts knows the importance of mastering the 
basics. Not only must you master the basics, but you must consistently continue to work on them on a regular basis - practice, practice, practice.

Master the basics and practice are vital to success!

The basics are the foundation upon which anyone can build to improve themselves. 
I believe that each of us has been blessed by God with special talents, abilities, gifts, and skills. Yes, even those with 
disabilities have been blessed with them. It is vital and necessary to master the basics and to practice in order to develop 
the special talents, abilities, gifts, and skills. This will help each individual to be as successful as they possibly can be as they Dare To Do Their Best.

In the next article, we will begin to take a look at some of the basic positive, practical practices to help build success.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

It Smells Like Rain

by Diana Blessing

This story was originally titled "Heaven Scent" and published in a book by Richard L. Scott, entitled Miracles in Our Midst. The rough draft of the story was written by the mother of Danae Blessing and was submitted and selected to be a part of the book. It was an inspirational story that quickly became popular on the internet.

Although this story is not about an individual with a disability, the story certainly helps one to understand what parents go through when they find out their child may not live or may survive, but never have a normal life. It tells of the emotional turmoil of not knowing what to expect—not knowing what the future may hold for a child who may have significant physical and/or mental problems.

No one can know what parents of a child with a disability goes through when they were expecting to have a normal healthy child and find out otherwise. No one can know what obstacle individuals with disabilities must overcome, what adversities they face, and how difficult life can be. To even have an inkling of an idea, you must walk a mile in their shoes.

The basic facts of the story are true, although over the years many embellishments have been made, especially with photographs being added that had nothing to do with the original story. The story as it appears here has been verified and confirmed by Diana Blessing.

I would like to thank Diana for allowing me to share her story, for taking the time to answer questions, and for sending me a photograph of her lovely daughter, Danae, to use with the story.  (George M. Graham Jr.)

A cold March wind danced around the dead of night in Dallas as the doctor walked into the small hospital room of Diana Blessing. Still groggy from surgery, her husband, David, held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news.

That afternoon of March 10, 1991, complications had forced Diana, only 24-weeks pregnant, to undergo an emergency cesarean section to deliver couple's new daughter, Danae Lu Blessing. At 12 inches long and weighing only one pound nine ounces, they already knew she was perilously premature.

Still, the doctor's soft words dropped like bombs. “I don't think she's going to make it,” he said, as kindly as he could. “There's only a 10-percent chance she will live through the night, and even then, if by some slim chance she does make it, her future could be a very cruel one."

Numb with disbelief, David and Diana listened as the doctor described the devastating problems Danae would likely face if she survived. She would never walk; she would never talk; she would probably be blind; and she would certainly be prone to other catastrophic conditions from cerebral palsy to complete mental retardation; and on and on.

“No! No!” was all Diana could say. She and David, with their 5-year-old son Dustin, had long dreamed of the day they would have a daughter to become a family of four. Now, within a matter of hours, that dream was slipping away.

Through the dark hours of morning as Danae held onto life by the thinnest thread, Diana slipped in and out of drugged sleep, growing more and more determined that their tiny daughter would live—and live to be a healthy, happy young girl. But David, fully awake and listening to additional dire details of their daughter’s chances of ever leaving the hospital alive, much less healthy, knew he must confront his wife with the inevitable.

David walked in and said that we need to talk about making funeral arrangements, Diana remembers. “I felt so bad for him because he was doing everything, trying to include me in what was going on, but I just wouldn’t listen, I couldn’t listen.” I said, “No, that is not going to happen, no way! I don’t care what the doctors say, Danae is not going to die! One day she will be just fine, and she will be coming home with us!"

As if willed to live by Diana’s determination, Danae clung to life hour after hour, with the help of every medical machine and marvel her miniature body could endure. But as those first days passed, a new agony set in for David and Diana.

Because Danae's underdeveloped nervous system was essentially “raw,” the lightest kiss or caress only intensified her discomfort, so they couldn't even cradle their tiny baby girl against their chests to offer the strength of their love. All they could do, as Danae struggled alone beneath the ultraviolet light in the tangle of tubes and wires, was to pray that God would stay close to their precious little girl.

There was never a moment when Danae suddenly grew stronger. But as the weeks went by, she did slowly gain an ounce of weight here and an ounce of strength there.

At last, when Danae turned two months old, her parents were able to hold her in their arms for the very first time. And two months later, though doctors continued to gently but grimly warn that her chances of surviving, much less living any kind of normal life, were next to zero, Danae went home from the hospital, just as her mother had predicted.

Five years later, when Danae was a petite but feisty young girl with glittering gray eyes and an unquenchable zest for life, she showed no signs, whatsoever, of any mental or physical impairments. Simply, she was everything a little girl can be and more.

One blistering afternoon in the summer of 1996 near her home, Danae was sitting in her mother's lap in the bleachers of a local ball park where her brother Dustin's baseball team was practicing. As always, Danae was chattering nonstop with her mother and several other adults sitting nearby, when she suddenly fell silent. Hugging her arms across her chest, little Danae asked, “Do you smell that?"

Smelling the air and detecting the approach of a thunderstorm, Diana replied, “Yes, it smells like rain.” Danae closed her eyes and again asked, “Do you smell that?"

Once again, her mother replied, “Yes, I think we're about to get wet. It smells like rain."

Danae at 16 years old.
Still caught in the moment, Danae shook her head, patted her thin shoulders with her small hands and loudly announced, “No, it smells like Him. It smells like God when you lay your head on His chest."

Tears blurred Diana's eyes as Danae happily hopped down to play with the other children. Before the rains came, her daughter's words confirmed what Diana and all the members of the extended Blessing family had known, at least in their hearts, all along.

During those long days and nights of her first two months of her life, when her nerves were too sensitive for them to touch her, God was holding Danae on His chest and it is His loving scent that she remembers so well.