Blog #204~Lessons Learned from the Last Lecture
Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and author of the national bestselling book, The Last Lecture. He encouraged his students to attempt hard things and not worry about failing. He would give out “The First Penguin Award” to the team who took the biggest gamble trying new ideas and technology, but failed to achieve their goals. “This award celebrated out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.” The title of this award came from the way that penguins jump into the water that might contain predators. Somebody has to be the gustsy, first penguin, and take a bold leap into the unknown.
The takeaway is this, it’s important to attempt hard things and you can expect to hit brick walls. That is when you gain experience.
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
This quote struck me as I was reading The Last Lecture over the weekend. My son Nick, was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome. Years later, he recieved a secondary diagnsosis of autism. I didn’t get the “normal child” that I expected. My path raising Nick has been very different then I had planned. But along the way, over the past twenty-four years I’ve gained a great amount of experience in navigating my son’s journey.
Randy Pausch, a computer science professor gave his last lecture after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer, leaving behind a wife and three young children. His book, The Last Lecture, co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow is a summation of everything Randy believed with some valuable lessons in “overcoming obstacles, enabling others, and seizing every moment.
There are so many lessons offered by Pausch in The Last Lecture. I want to share a few that resonated with me, as a parent of a child with special needs. When my son, Nick was born twenty-four years ago, I made some choices on how I was going to manage life. I was dealt a set of cards, that I didn’t expect. But soon realized, that I would have to play the hand differently. This meant getting support to help my son reach developmental milestones and creating a home environment that supported his growth. I also learned to reach out to parents, therapists and teachers with experience to help me understand how to help my son become the best he could be.
Another valuable lesson is in the approach to life when facing adversity. Randy says, “Make a decision, are you going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore?” A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie-the Pooh characters are in two different camps. I’d choose fun-loving Tigger over grumpy Eeyore every time. Optimism can take you much further in life!
Here are a few more nuggets of wisdom from Randy Pausch, and how they relate to being a parent of a child, with special needs. I found these lessons to ring true, especially navigating a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism:
“All you have is what you bring with you.”
I understand all too well the need to be prepared for whatever situation the day may bring with my son. What do I need to bring and what should I anticipate? This could be anything from an extra set of clothes, spare iPod, PECS book, AAC device, snacks, Kleenex, stim toys and more. Identify possible trouble spots/ triggers for meltdowns/messess and come up with ways to avoid these incidences. Also, have a contingency plan in case as Randy says, “All hell breaks loose”.”
“All you have to do is ask.”
Randy tells a story about his Dad wanting to ride in the nose cone with the driver on the monorail at Disney World. His Dad assumed they didn’t let regular people ride up there. Randy told his Dad he had a trick and asked if his Dad wanted to see it. He walked up the driver and asked, and the driver said yes. You never know unless you ask, and this is true from my experiences working with doctors, therapists, teachers and other IEP members. Ask for IEP drafts before the meeting, and to be included in your child’s goal planning. Ask that the parent concerns (that you’ve written ahead of time), be put directly in the IEP at the beginning of the meeting. These concerns will be a part of what drives the IEP. Ask the doctor for whatever your child might need for their health like, prescriptions for therapy, nutritional supplements, evaluations for orthotics and to get all test results as soon as they come in.
“Start by sitting together”
This is essential when going to your child’s IEP (Individual Eduction Plan) meetings. Randy’s approach to working with a group of people is simple. Lay all the cards face up on the table and say to the group, “Ok, what can we collectively make of this hand?” He offers a few tips for a successful group meeting like having optimal meeting conditions (make sure no one is hungry, cold or tired). I’ll add in cramped rooms with small chairs, as this has happened to me in past IEP meetings. Randy also adds, to let everyone talk, check your egos at the door and praise each other. Finally phrase alternatives as questions, so instead of saying, “I think we should do A and not B” try saying, “What if we did A and not B”. This allows the team members to offer comments rather than defend their choice. It opens up the discussion to get input from the whole IEP team.
The lessons that Randy Pausch shares in his book, are valuable. Here are my takeaways as they relate being a parent of a child with special needs:
*Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something daring.
*If you hit a brick wall, learn from it and gain more experience.
*You can’t change the cards that were dealt, but you can change how you play the hand.
*Your approach in playing that hand can be with a positive or negative attitude, it’s your choice.
*All you have to do is ask. They might say sure, why not.
*Start by sitting together, when it comes to IEP’s the team should come together to be solution oriented, not problem oriented in collaboration approach.
Thank you Randy Pausch for the valuable lessons you shared in The Last Lecture and for the reminder to take what you have learned so that you can help others who might be starting down the same path.
And as you navigate your path always remember this…..
That’s what is in my noggin this week.
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