ACA Blog

Pete Saunders
Jul 27, 2010

What I Have Learned From Mr. Palsy

Have you had the privilege of meeting and/or interacting with a special needs child on a professional or personal level? How did you find the experience? What did you learn? My wife and I are the proud and sometimes ‘confused’ parents of a soon-to-be four year-old boy. Our son was officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP aka Mr. Palsy) shortly after birth. This means he has difficulty walking, talking, and performing ’simple’ everyday activities. Sometimes it is extremely challenging especially when communicating. He still communicates by crying (not so much anymore), pointing and babbling. This can be quite frustrating for all of us especially for him. We certainly understand some of his basic messages and requests but most of the times we just have to pretend as though we understand exactly what he is saying. We find that he is still very clever and independent despite these setbacks.

Believe it or not, my son is actually helping me tremendously on my journey in becoming a more effective counselor. I believe every successful counselor possesses and have mastered the common yet vital skills of active listening, honest communication and heart-felt empathy. My son forces me to listen not just with my ears but with my eyes and my heart; to communicate not with the main purpose of being understood but to understand; and to accept not only where he is due to his condition (or whatever politically correct term you prefer) but also where he can go because of his determination. Seeing him struggle with ‘simple’ tasks hurts and at times I wish things were different.

It’s amazing how he tries to do everything by himself despite Mr. Palsy’s constant presence and interruptions. He only asks for our help after trying for maybe 10 times. I really admire this about him. He does get quite irritable when things are not going the way he wants. For example, because of fine motor skills issues, he has a hard time with activities that involves placing small objects in containers. After a while, he’ll get angry and start crying while at the same time still trying to complete the task. Sometimes we help, other times we don’t. We don’t because we believe it is important for him to complete (certain) tasks on his own without the help of his parents. This is very hard for us to do especially when we see that he is clearly struggling.

Don’t we sometimes wish we could do certain things for our clients even if only to prove positive results are possible? Sometimes our clients are simply reluctant to take that first step towards recovery and healing but we realize that this is a journey they must complete on their own with the tools we equip them with. My son also helps me realize that all of us move at a different pace on our journey. The fact that some clients take a longer time to start their journey than others is no indication that they will not complete it. My wife and I try to not let our son feel that because other kids can do it easier and faster than he can, that he should not complete the task.

The interesting thing is that when I speak with other parents of a special needs child, they always comment on the joy they experience from having that child in their life. They rarely mention the extra care it takes to parent such a child. To them, it is more than worth it. The common consensus is that these children are placed in our lives to teach us life’s true meaning – how to love, live, pray, laugh, cry, learn, hope - that it’s the little things that make the big difference.

Parenting a special-needs child is not something I would consider a walk in the park. Neither is working with our clients in helping them find hope, embrace possibilities, and achieve success. However, with all its risks, fears, dreams, disasters (for some, literally a lifetime’s worth), small achievements (most often invisible to the ‘normal’ eye), and loss, the journey is worth it nonetheless.

Our son is definitely the joy of our life. He makes us so happy and so very proud. I will not go as far as to say he will always make us proud because some kids for various reasons do take sabbaticals from reality (not sure if special needs kids are immune to this). However, God smiled on us the day our son entered our lives. To meet my son, visit

Pete Saunders is a graduate student at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at

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