In the world of disabilities and planning I often think of “transition” as moving into adulthood. It starts at age 16 and ends at 22. But truthfully, transitions are constant in life. Those of us with young kids cannot mistake transition as a topic for a later date. It is imperative now that we ask and intuit about our child’s near and distant futures. It is imperative that we practice articulating and teaching them to articulate their life visions. Every. Thing. We. Do. is towards this larger vision. It must be defined, redefined, and on and on.
Four and a half years ago a resource landed in my inbox. It was a PowerPoint from a presentation by Tim Greusel, Creating a Vision for Your Child’s Future. The PowerPoint and the vision statement samples contained within planted a seed.
Not surprisingly, this resource and the very idea that I should be writing a vision statement for my then 3-year-old came from a fellow parent. This mom was someone I met because our daughters shared a diagnosis. This mom is a mentor, friend and inspiration. This vision writing idea is only one of the countless ways she and other parents like her have altered the trajectory of my daughter’s life. This type of impact is part of the “why?” Parent to Parent CONNECTED exists.
At the time of Norah’s transition from early childhood I was waist deep in the deficit mode of thinking. I felt like I couldn’t speak about my daughter’s strengths in planning meetings because she might be denied services. I wanted her to be included but couldn’t get any further in my argument than “because everyone should be included”. I was stressed, exhausted and feeling generally awful that advocating for my daughter somehow meant marketing only her challenges. I thought I was just taking a break the day I sat down to write this vision statement thingy. It turned out to be the practice that gives a heartbeat to the advocacy work I do on behalf of Norah.
As I imagined what Norah’s life would be like in one year, five years, adulthood I felt the weight of my responsibility and also the freedom to dream big things for her. Because she is capable and deserving of big things. Things like job satisfaction, a happy home, a sense of belonging in her community and a myriad of choices about how she spends her free time. In no way did I have to define what those aspects of her adult life will look like to talk about them. I could talk about Norah as an elementary student walking to school with her brother. I could talk about her participating in extracurriculars to further friendships, having sleepovers and starting a slime club. I could talk about how Norah and her peers will grow together so they become that gorgeously interdependent adult community. I could talk about how assistive technology would allow her access to curriculum. How supports for Norah would also be available to her peers.
I cry a lot through the process of vision writing. Big, fat happy tears at the joyful task of envisioning a grand future for my child just as her mom. And when all of this is done I find pictures of Norah preferably in a power pose and add that to the document. And then I share Norah’s vision with everyone, sometimes twice. The process brings such clarity to the planning
process. It is difficult for providers to argue with a family’s vision for their child. It will be difficult for providers to argue with Norah’s vision for herself. We set the tone for IEP development with a strong positive vision statement. And we learn together as a team to think, speak and act in strengths-based ways as we support Norah towards her goals. And we know quite clearly why we are setting goals and whether or not they are in line with her future.
Not everything in life will end up as we envision. That’s true and good and part of the journey. But I know my daughter’s future is bright. I can see it.
7 Tips for Vision Writing
- Involve your child as much as possible in imagining their future. As they develop involve them consistently in planning and writing their vision statement. Observe them. Ask them questions. Ask their siblings, classmates, grandparents questions. Dream big together.
- What do you think you’re good at (in school, etc)?
- What do you want to do for fun this year, when you’re a 5th grader, when you’re an adult?
- What makes you want to work hard?
- Resources: Use Tim Greusel’s outline for planning and developing a great vision statement. Ask other parents and
self-advocates to share vision statements they have written.
- Use people first language and be positive- Every person is an individual first. Vision statements talk about individuality as it relates to our near and distant futures. Some self-advocates will choose to highlight their disability because it is a source of pride and belonging for them. Many self-advocates and parents prefer that the disability be no more of a mention in their vision statement than hair color or some other attribute.
- Use your own words- It is inspiring and helpful to read others’ vision statements. You may adopt some people-first language you like along the way but write from your own voice or even from your child’s perspective. You don’t have to be confident in your writing skills to write a vision statement. In fact, if it isn’t delivered in your style then it will lose some of its power.
- Keep it under a page. Feel free to write a long version. It will come in handy when you are in planning meetings to have thought through so many details. But for the vision you will share with others keep it under a page with reader friendly font size.
- Personalize with photos- Look for photos of your kiddo happily doing what they love, or in power poses looking strong.
- Share with everyone who touches your child’s life. You’ll want to share this in a variety of ways. Print copies. Save a PDF copy for electronic sharing. Consider spending a few dollars on nice papers or plastic page covers. Those touches let people know you have put a lot of effort into this process.
Written By: Jamie O’Conner (Outreach Coordinator)
Check out these sample vision statements.