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Shifting the Perspective on Disabilities

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Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

If I was asked the question, "Was receiving the news your son had Down syndrome a life changer for you?" my answer would be yes, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate.

It's easy to look at a one big, notable experience and say that event changed my life. Yet, when I take some time to ponder my life changing moments, they are not big and notable, but small and simple.

These small and simple moments have come in the form of a joke, a laugh, or a smile. Though the moment was a brief sliver in time, it served as a pivot point, causing a shift in perspective. An internal shift in perspective has the power to change everything.

When my son, Wil, started kindergarten, he began having certain behavior problems. Kindergarten was overwhelming for him, and when he was tired or didn't want to do something, he responded by crawling under a table or plopping himself unmoving on the floor.

This behavior was affecting his learning, and was starting to disrupt the class. Though his assigned teacher's aide and I tried many different approaches, nothing had a lasting effect.

Over time, I worked myself into a high state of stress over these behaviors. I didn't know what to do and felt at a loss. In desperation, I talked to a friend from our Down syndrome support group about this situation. Her son is a few years older than Wil, and I hoped she would have some ideas on how to help him.

As I described Wil's kindergarten story to her, a big, calm, knowing smile spread across her face. She put her hand gently on my shoulder and said, "My son did that all the time! Don't worry! He'll outgrow it. This is what we did..."

Surprisingly, I found myself laughing with her about all the things I had only moments ago been feeling distressed over. This was a pivot point for me. My friend's knowing smile and shared story completely changed my perspective of the situation.

Sharing stories with humor doesn't take away the importance of what needs to be accomplished to achieve our desired results, but it gives us the strength to lift our heads up out of our problems and open our perspective to new options, and bravely move forward, step by step, in that direction.

We must be vulnerable enough to place our heels on the feet of others, as Maysoon's father placed her heels on his, as he taught her how to walk. Though each step was likely slow and difficult at first, her father was there with her, sharing his complete faith in her abilities, every single step of the way.

When the going gets tough, and that old stress starts to rise in me, I remember my friend and her calm, knowing smile. I remember how she put her feet beneath my heels when I needed them, and helped me to move forward.

If my son is going through a difficult time, I take him out of the situation for a moment and give him a calm, knowing smile. That smile tells him I understand, and when I have his attention, I give him a tickle. He starts laughing and we end up in hysterics making silly faces at each other. His overwhelming emotions dissipate, and his perspective shifts. He is now open and willing to move forward on the task he only moments ago was refusing to do.

It's in the small and simple moments of a shared joke, a shared laugh or a shared smile, that tell my son, I am the feet beneath your heels when you need me. I have full faith in your abilities, and we are moving forward together, one small life changing event at a time.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@huffingtonpost.com to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.