Raising children is the most challenging job we are given in this life – navigating the early, sleepless years, then providing the support and guidance our children need as they grow into their teens years. If you’re a thoughtful parent, it will lead you to some serious questions about your personal beliefs and red lines.

I have found that raising a child with special needs increases the challenge exponentially.

My daughter, Adina, is a capable 15 year old teen with Down syndrome – she loves music, painting, ceramics, falafel, John Travolta, Glee, dancing, hanging out with her niece, campfires, taking the dog for a walk. Speech has always been her biggest obstacle and once she finally had the flow of the words down pat, she suddenly retreated. She speaks in less than a whisper and struggles to get the words out that are so obviously right there on her tongue. As a result, she gets ignored a lot – who has the patience?

Being Adina’s mom has taken me places and taught me things I never would have learned or accomplished otherwise. I learned to put “knowledge” into perspective. Our society worships “smart” – the kind that gets you to the top of the class and into the best schools. Thanks to Adina, I have realized that the traditional kind of “smart” is over-rated. How many smart people do you know who are not especially happy human beings?

Adina intuitively knows and insists upon what is right for her at any given moment – she doesn’t usually care what those around her think about it. She is the round peg and the world is a square hole. When she was younger, teachers, after-school classes and other kids would round out the corners a bit to accommodate her. But as she gets older there’s less tolerance for her slower pace, verbal challenges, extreme shyness and other “unusual” behaviors. The square hole gets smaller.

Yet, when we’re with people who truly appreciate her for who she is, we both relax and I always feel as if we just moved beyond the mundane to a higher plane.  She smiles her beautiful smile and her whole face lights up. She is understood and most importantly accepted. And that feels sublime.

By Miriam Avraham, Shutaf Co-Founder