“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

09/20/2016 01:53 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2016

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." We’ve all heard the expression a million times. When faced with adversity pull up your boots and make the best of it! Make a sweet delicious drink out of something sour. It’s also something that parents of children with disabilities hear far too often – from friends, family, teachers, even strangers on the street! You may have even said it to someone yourself…with the best of intentions.

When applied to kids with disabilities, this expression suggests we should feel pity, that their life is sour, that they will never be able to achieve their dreams, and they should put on a smile and just make the best of it. But is that really true?

Every day, I meet kids who are challenging stigmas and stereotypes and redefining what it means to be a kid with a disability. They don’t even realize they’re such trail blazers because they’re too busy being kids doing the ordinary and exceptional things that kids do. As kids and then as the adults they become, they show us how they aren’t defined by disability but by who they are and what matters to them.

There’s Marissa who at the age of 16 competed in track and field as part of Team Canada at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

There’s Tai whose career as an actor is taking off, staring in a commercial for Canadian Tire and with some other exciting acting projects on the horizon.

Aziza is a caring giving young woman who is building valuable job skills over the summer as she prepares to achieve her dream of living in residence at university in a couple of years while she studies to be an accountant.

Watch out for Maayan whose start up AccessNow is crowdsourcing accessible environments and bringing attention to the inaccessible ones worldwide and who is a budding tech entrepreneur.

And there’s even my own daughter Rachel, going into her final year of high school with renewed self-confidence and a priceless smile because of fears conquered and experience gained including through supported volunteering at an agency that helps newcomers to Canada.

While some people might look at these kids and see the disability, at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, we see possibility, strength, vitality, bravery and a zest for life.

Each child is valued because of who they are not what they can (or can’t) do. Every day, their courage, tenacity, energy and spirit motivate and inspire everyone around them because of who they are.

And while life is not perfect for the kids and families we serve (whose life is?), we’re helping these kids unlock cognitive and physical abilities that represent their greatest potential. Sometimes that’s regaining something lost through illness or injury. Other times it may be treatments to make possible what they weren’t quite sure could be at birth. Through research it may even involve creating a new technology or treatment that amplifies their capacity. And all while living safely and with meaningful friendships.

So the next time you see a child with a disability, don’t think “poor kid,” think “I wonder what that person is interested in? Does she have a great sense of humour? Is she an actor, author, advocate, or athlete? Maybe he is a super loving brother and lights up every room he’s in…” Recognize them by what they can do and who they are as a person, not by their disability.

And if you have a moment, check out Holland Bloorview’s Baking Good. To show the world that kids with disabilities are a whole lot more than a stereotype, some of the kids helped start a bakery, and guess what, lemons are the main ingredient.

Why lemons? Not because of a tired expression. Lemons have kick and they are bright, bold and colourful…just like the kids at Holland Bloorview.

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