Since starting www.scottdrotar.com and creating Roll Models, I have been fortunate enough to network with other disabled people with websites, blogs, and Facebook groups. As a result of interacting with these incredible individuals, I have become an active member of several forums and Facebook groups that are devoted to topics like spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), wheelchair users, and disabilities in general. These groups are great places for people who have recently been diagnosed to get information and ask questions about living with a disability. As I have become more and more active in responding to people’s inquiries and sharing my experiences, I have been reminded of the importance of passing on your unique knowledge and experiences to others. This idea is the whole point of Roll Models, but it is so much bigger than that. What is the point of having a lifetime of wisdom, if you are not going to put it to use helping others? I know that my life would have been much more difficult if not for the advice and guidance of other people, and that is why I am so passionate about sharing what knowledge I have. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity and ability to bring this guidance full circle by helping others the same way people helped me.
When I was diagnosed, my parents had never even heard of SMA, let alone know how to raise a disabled child. Since this was way back in the 1980s, and there were not things like Google and Wikipedia to get instant information on things, they basically had to figure things out on their own. This is pretty much like taking a child to the pool for the first time, throwing them in the deep end, and saying “swim.” Fortunately for me, my parents were natural “swimmers,” and they did an amazing job of keeping their heads above water, raising me, and maintaining our family. This level of success would probably not have been possible, or at the very least it would have been much harder to obtain, if not for the “life preserver” they were given by a kind stranger.
When I was 3 years old and had just recently been diagnosed, my mom decided to take some time off from teaching to take care of me and my sister. This was necessary not just because my family was new to SMA and trying to figure out how to manage my physical limitations, but also because due to my disability I couldn’t go to a normal daycare. One day while my sister was at school as a kindergartener, my mom and I went to the grocery store. After we had gotten all of our groceries and were standing in line waiting to check out, the woman who was in line behind us started talking to my mother. She smiled and said, “I don’t want to be rude, but I can see that your son is disabled. I know that it can be hard to find childcare for a child with special needs, and I was wondering if you were aware of the preschool for the handicapped here in town?” My mother told her we had not heard of it before, and the kind woman gave my mom some basic information and phone number. My mom thanked the woman, checked out, and drove us home, and although we never saw this lady again, in that single, 60 second conversation she had a profound impact on my life.
That same week my mom contacted the preschool and got more information, and it was not long before I was going there on a regular basis. This was an enormous help for both me and my family. For me, it gave me access to things like physical therapy, access to adaptive technologies, and teachers that were familiar with my disability. On top of that, this gave me the opportunity to be around other kids and learn to socialize and such. Being at preschool also was a chance for me to start depending on people other than my folks, which was important in helping me want to be independent. As much as going to preschool was a benefit for me, it may have been an even bigger help for my mother. For one, it was a place where my parents could get information on my disease and network with other parents. In addition, having a place where I could go for a few hours a week meant that she no longer had to care for me 24/7. She now had a block of time where she didn’t have to think about my disability, and she could get a break. All of these benefits were a large part of the success my family had in learning to care for my disability, and I am certain that without the assistance of this preschool my life could have turned out much different.
Now fast forward with me 15 years to when I was 18 years old. Once again, my mother and I had gone to the store to do some shopping and fill some of my prescriptions. As we were standing in line at the pharmacy, a woman, who was barely an acquaintance of my family, got in line behind us. Since we lived in a super tiny town where everyone knows everyone, we were aware that this young woman had a child who had recently been diagnosed with a disease similar to mine. As we waited in line, we heard the woman say into her phone, “I’m at the pharmacy. I will be home to watch her as soon as I can. I’m hurrying.” At hearing this, my mother turned around and said, “Do you need to get home to your child?” The woman replied, “Yes. My husband needs to leave for work, and he can’t leave until I get there to watch her, but I have to get her medicine first.” My mom smiled and said, “Go in front of us in line. I remember what it was like to have a recently diagnosed child and not have anyone to help me.” The woman tearfully thanked my mother and hurried home to her kid.
I always think fondly of this memory, not only because of the selfless kindness of my mom, but also in the symmetry of this event with the similar event with the roles reversed from 15 years earlier. Just like the woman had helped my family purely out of kindness when I was little, my mother had repaid this kindness, and brought it full circle, by helping that woman in the pharmacy get home faster. While the preschool for the handicapped had helped my parents stop from getting overwhelmed by the newness of my diagnosis, my mom had helped this overwhelmed mother in the same situation. The similarities between these two moments in my life are almost uncanny, and they illustrate how important it is to pass on your wisdom and experience. By sharing your knowledge and bringing the information that was taught to you full circle, you can greatly improve the lives of others.
Sharing what you know with others is vital to making the world a better place for the next generation. By bringing what was passed on to us full circle by helping people, hopefully others will not have to go through all of the growing pains and overcome all of the obstacles as we did. When was the last time you helped someone by sharing your wisdom or experience of their situation? Sharing what you know with others doesn’t cost you anything, but few gifts are more appreciated or more helpful than knowledge. Remember how you struggled through various moments in your life, and how the advice and guidance of others helped you. Practice some empathy and kindness and bring that feeling full circle by helping someone. This will not only be something that will change the life of someone else, but it will also bring you a great feeling of closure and happiness at bringing this selfless act full circle by repaying that kindness.