"In special education, there's too much emphasis placed on the deficit and not enough on the strength."
Temple Grandin

I love being in control. Or, better yet, I hate not being in control. Extremely extroverted, I just might be addicted to power. And yet, I still managed to find myself faced with a situation that left me vulnerable and impotent.

My junior year of high school, I was selected to coach a spirit squad of special needs peers on my campus. Having competed in the sport for 10 years, I figured I had channeled all the perspectives worth considering. However, being looked up to by such unique students had shown me a new light.

Even though they taught me more about heart and determination than I could have ever imagined, coaching them was one of the most frustrating experiences I've faced as a leader. I was met with great difficulty when pondering how to overcome the boundaries in their understanding. With extremely heightened senses, these kids communicate much differently than the average student. One of my girls, Beth*, lives with an extreme form of autism. Instead of typical conversations, I had to learn new hand motions to communicate with her, working around her short temper. There's no guide on how to handle a mental break in these children until it happens. Coaxing a child back to reality like Amy was like looking for the light switch in a dark room, frustrating and helpless. She showed me what it was like to have my safety of control robbed; she disabled me with her open heart.

These children slowly taught me that all problems were best solved with confidence and patience, one day at a time. I found myself driven by their naive innocence, wanting to prove to myself that I held the potential to be a role model. My frustration evolved into patience, realizing that, sometimes, the absence of power can still be empowering. And, perhaps more importantly, I learned that every child is different; that every child requires individual attention, disabled or not. I've realized that I can't always be in control. But that's not a bad thing. What's critical is understanding those around us with patience and humility.

(* name changed for privacy)