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Raising A Child With Disability Is Full Of Surprise

Van Buren, A. (2000, October). Raising a child with disability is full of surprise. (“Dear Abby” Syndicated advice column).


What follows is an essay frequently published by popular advice columnist “Dear Abby”. It is an insightful, encouraging view on living with a disability. It is printed below in its entirety.

Welcome to Holland

by Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability-to try to help people who have not shared the unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip-to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo’s “David.” The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. You must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yest, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How can this essay be of comfort to a parent living with a disability? Can it help a young person struggling with his or her own disability?
  2. What are the essay’s most important thoughts?
  3. Does the essay offer a realistic view of living with a disability? Explain.
  4. Are there other situations for which this essay could be used? What are some examples?
  5. What is your Italy? What is your Holland?


  1. Everyone can relate to major disappointments. Facing a life-changing, life-long disability is certainly one of life’s most challenging letdowns. Yet it also leads to new, beautiful opportunities and experiences.
  2. One of the lesson’s often learned through tragedy is thankfulness. So many good things in life are taken for granted. So many tough situations are taken for granted. There is joy to be found in both the easy and the hard times.
  3. Young people may become very frustrated with their own disability. These formative years may be especially challenging for a disabled youth. Youth workers are important. Help the young person to see the positive aspects of his or her life.
  4. Parents may show signs of exhaustion, frustration, sorrow, or embarrassment. Youth workers should be available to parents. Be strong and encouraging as you listen.

Kathryn Q. Powers
© 2018 CYS

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