I’d learned for the first time that Rick Santorum has a daughter with special needs while watching the election returns from Iowa last night. The Santorums’ three year old daughter (Bella) has Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder associated with intellectual disability in the small percentage of kids with the condition who survive for longer than a year.
When I started using Google to learn more, I came across an interview from last month with Senator Santorum. One question (around the 3:35 mark of the interview) jumped out at me…
“As a mother, I just wonder how you can keep going and justify this (running for President) with so much personal toll at home, given the polls.”
I’n my practice and in my volunteer work with Key Ministry, I’ve talked to too many mothers and fathers of kids with special emotional or behavioral needs whose parenting decisions and practices have been harshly judged by those who have never walked in their shoes or sought to understand the challenges they face.
I was serving on a church board where we considered a candidate for senior pastor who had been very open in discussing his son with autism during his preaching and teaching. The position involves lots of evening and weekend meetings and lends itself to a highly unpredictable schedule, none of which is necessarily helpful when one has a child who doesn’t respond well to changes in routine. The candidate was hired by the Board…I’d argue that the impact of his ministry has been enhanced by his experiences as a parent. All too often, I suspect that churches and other organizations make assumptions about how parents of kids with special needs should be spending their time that result in those parents missing out on opportunities for meaningful service.
I’m not expressing an opinion about Mr. Santorum’s candidacy one way or another. But he and his family deserve the respect to make decisions about how best to serve while raising a child with special needs, and we shouldn’t presume that we know what’s best for his children and his family, or any other family in which a child has a special emotional, behavioral, developmental or physical need. He deserves to be judged by the voters on the basis of his leadership ability, character, judgment and ideas and not by uninformed perceptions of how parents of kids with special needs should be spending their time.
Check out this video clip from an earlier debate…I don’t often see fathers of kids with special needs share from their experiences as openly as Senator Santorum did here…
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