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Hopeless Kindergartener Transforms to Extraordinary Graduate: Expectations Matter

Michael at themailbox on first day of Kindergarten and High School Graduation Day

I’m an ordinary girl living an extraordinary journey.  Some people call it luck.  Others say I’m very blessed.  I believe both of those things to be true. But they aren’t the main ingredients in my secret sauce of climbing out of the hopeless pit and into a hope fueled journey. Let’s explore, shall we?

First, let’s talk ordinary.  I had always had a relatively ordinary life.  High school diploma.  College Degree.  Landed the job, the husband, the perfectly manicured lawn, the SUV, and the McMansion in the suburbs.  Nineteen years ago, if there was a statistics category in the United States for “ordinary”, I was smack dab in the middle of it.

And then a rare disease happened.  Twice.

My first two children were diagnosed as blind due to a rare eye disease, CRB1/LCA, when they were each four months old.  I bet some newbies to my journey are thinking “Who the heck considers this woman lucky and blessed?”  Well I sure didn’t think so nineteen years ago.  It turns out, as I wrote about in last week’s blog (that you can read here) it was my perception that was killing my mojo and driving me right to my couch in a puddle of tears every day.

Once I had my miracle moment of a change in perception,  I took the next big step in  the life changing process of climbing out of the pit of hopelessness and onto a hope fueled journey; I set extraordinary expectations for my boys.

Take a deep breath and open your mind and your heart now because I need this next thought to sink deep into your mindset:  Our perceptions drive our expectations, which directly affect our outcomes.

Keep that thought with you as we dive a bit deeper into this key ingredient to an extraordinary journey. 

dicitonary.com definition of extraordinary

Dictionary.com defines the word extraordinary as “beyond what is usual, regular, ordinary or established.”  I had two choices when I looked at the journey ahead for me and my children.  I could hug them and shield them from the world, a world that had no expectations at all for their lives and certainly didn’t expect me to do anything but hug them and cry. 

OR, I could set expectations of greatness for them,

expectations that they would achieve their dreams,

expectations that were way outside of what was ordinarily set for people without sight.

This blog series is not about fluff and inspiration.  I’m giving you the tangible ways of how my extraordinary expectations changed everything.  Literally.  Hang on tight because here we go:

70% of the blind community is unemployed.

Only 30% of blind students graduate high school.

Only 14% get a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Michael as a littel kindergartener, standing at the mailbox on his first day of school smiling big!
Michael’s first day of Kindergarten

Like many, many blind Americans, my boys are above average intelligence.  However when my oldest blind son, Michael, got to Kindergarten… after sailing through preschool… the Individualized Education Plan team set goals like this for him:  Michael will find his cubby 70% of the time. 

My family’s question: Are the other children only finding the cubby 70% of the time?  Is that what is expected of them?

IEP team: No, Kristin.  They can see, so of course they will find it all the time.  Your son is blind.  70% is actually very good for him.

Shut. The. Front. Door.

This is one of the top school districts in our state and in the country.  This is where I chose to move for the best education for my children.  And that was their expectation of my son??!!!

Because of those ordinary expectations, my son, who skipped into school in the morning, would come home defeated and in tears: “Kindergarten is too hard” he said. Because of those ordinary expectations, tools weren’t being taught, and therefore learning was nearly impossible. Michael changed from a brilliant, energized five year old to a hopeless, exhausted kiddo.

That’s. Not. Cool.

It would take a lot of tears and threats and education and prayer… dear God the prayers… to get that IEP team to see the impact that  those expectations were having on my son.  It would take all the muscle and patience and more prayers to open their minds to think outside of what they ordinarily expected for a blind child in a sighted classroom.

But it happened.  That IEP team listened and allowed me to guide them on changing their perceptions and eventually they dipped their toes in the extraordinary expectations pool.

The result?  Michael was in the gifted program and took every Advanced Placement class he could jam into his schedule.  He graduated in the top 10% of his class of six hundred students. 

Michael on graduation day at the mailbox ! Much taller than kindergarten!

This picture is Michael on high school graduation day.  The cords around his neck represent all of the scholastic honor societies he was inducted into.  He’s wearing an achievement medal and the Student Council Executive Team stole – a position his peers voted him in all four years of high school.

And now…. this.

Michael at the podium on stage

This is my favorite picture on my hard drive and I will carry in my heart forever.  This is the picture that I want you to think about when you are tired and frustrated and thinking my extraordinary expectations deal might not be worth the effort:  This is Michael giving the Commencement Address to his 600+ peers on graduation day.  Look at the faces on the people behind him.  They are the school board, the principal, the superintendent and the class president.  They are people that had ordinary expectations for a blind child…. until they were challenged to create a journey that was outside of what was typically expected for a student without sight.  Look how proud they are of all that Michael accomplished.  More importantly, if you ask the folks there that know Michael well, they’d likely say they are most proud of the young man Michael has become and that his impact on all of the people he meets is extraordinary.

Kristin Smedley is a 2019 Champion of Hope Award winner. She is a Best Selling author, non profit leader and TEDx speaker.  She originally planned to be a third grade teacher… and then two of her three children were diagnosed as blind.  Kristin now shares her journey of raising her kids to not just survive challenges, but to thrive!  She speaks around the globe regarding blindness and resilience,  and she is about to launch a new nonprofit: Thriving Blind Academy to change the journey of people living with sight loss around the world!  Watch her TEDx talk here and order her new book here.  If you  are interested to have Kristin speak at your upcoming event,  email her at smedtalk@gmail.com or contact her here!

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Discover How To See Differently

Hey, I’m Kristin Smedley. I help you move from surviving to thriving when life blindsides you. I change how you see challenges.

Kristin Smiling a huge smile with autumn trees behind her
About Kristin Smedley

Kristin Smedley is the Best Selling author of Thriving Blind: Stories of Real People Succeeding Without Sight and Brilliantly Resilient: Reset, Rise and Reveal Your Brilliance. A recognized expert in the blindness and rare disease communities, Kristin won the highly regarded Champion of Hope Award and was named an Ambassador for the National Organization of Rare Disorders. Kristin is a popular, in demand speaker who has been invited to share her message internationally.

 

As CEO of a global patient organization, she coordinated legislation (H.R. #625) that became the first in US history to be submitted in Braille. Kristin spoke at the FDA to help achieve the first ever FDA approved gene therapy to treat an inherited retinal disease in the United States. Her TEDx Talk, book and international summit change perceptions of blindness, and sparked a global movement, Thriving Blind Academy, that is solving the unemployment, literacy, and financial crisis in the blind the community.

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kristin co-founded Brilliantly Resilient to help people come through life’s challenges and setbacks brilliant, not broken.

Find out how Kristin went from crying on the couch over her two son’s diagnosis of blindness, to raising them to thrive! Download the Introduction chapter of Kristin’s Best Selling Book Thriving Blind: Stories of Real People Succeeding Without Sight. Click the button below!