Originally published in the WFCF Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 2, August 2009
My son Matthew graduated from high school this summer. We had a big party for him. Our relatives, close friends and several of his teachers attended. It was an afternoon of great love and fun. As my wife Kathy and I reflected on the party, we both agreed it was very special for us as a family. We’ll remember the feelings of support and goodwill the party generated for the rest of our lives. As we look at his graduation and his future, we also agreed that this milestone moment is an especially significant time for Matthew and for us.
That’s because Matthew was born with multiple disabilities – autism and severe mental retardation. The care he requires is constant and intense. His school years were not anything like our other sons’ or most other children’s. His was a very unique and specialized education, filled not with reading, calculus, chemistry or history, where we could see him grow and develop and become a productive, creative young man. Instead his education consisted of toilet training, self-feeding, physical therapy and communication with sign language, pictures and high-tech electronic devices. Matthew will not go on to college nor do we have expectations that he will ever be able to have a job. With the mental capacity of someone of two years of age or less, his productive capabilities are extremely limited. At best, we can hope the adult day program he enters this summer will keep him safe, keep him from harming himself, and keep his limitless energy harnessed from destroying things around him. We hope, ultimately, that keeping him from those things will give him a contented life.
The reason I am on the board of the World Forgotten Children Foundation is directly because of my son Matthew. Kathy and I know all too intimately what it is like to raise a child with disabilities. Even in the arguably wealthiest nation on Earth with the promise of the world’s greatest opportunities, it is still very hard to care for a child who has significant physical and mental challenges. Even our nation’s resources cannot take many of the hardships away. But as parents, our most treasured goal is still to give our son what he needs so that he is as healthy and happy as he can be.
I cannot begin to imagine what it is like for children living in countries that do not have the resources that the United States has. In too many places, children with disabilities are often abandoned, orphaned or neglected because of social stigmas and limited social safety nets. It is heart-wrenching to see how little they have, and how compromised their health and happiness can be.
So, I serve—because of Matthew—for them. My son cannot speak for himself. He does not have a voice to share his needs and concerns. As his father I have to be his voice. And that’s why I serve on the board of WFCF, to be a voice for so many other children whose stories need to be told, whose lives need to be touched. I serve to share hope with them. I serve to give them at least a fraction of the chance my son has to live in health and happiness.