Candie A. Price: Tell us a little about yourself, marital status, children (and ages), city, state you reside, etc.
Donna Dyson:I am a Minister ,the mother of Jamal (15), Joshua (5), an independent publisher and an author and I live in Baltimore, MD.
CP: Your son, Joshua, has special needs. Tell us when you found out about his condition and explain to us the challenges Joshua faces and how that has impacted your family.
DD: On August 13, 2002, an hour after Joshua’s birth he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. The doctors said at that moment, that they were almost 100% sure that he had Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder which could impact individuals developmentally and cognitively. Individuals who are diagnosed with Down syndrome sometimes have serious medical illnesses, sometimes including major heart diseases. Though Joshua does not have many medical illnesses, with the exception of Asthma, he does have some developmental and cognitive delays. There are several areas in which Joshua falls behind in comparison to his peers, according to his IEP’s and assessments. My entire family is great with Joshua and very patient; however, there are some challenges which can be impacting. The uncertainty of Joshua’s overall development cognitively, raises concerns. Though everyone loves Joshua, and he is extremely bright; there is a level of unspoken fear of Joshua requiring life time assistance from others and him not being able live life independently.
CP: As a result of Joshua’s challenges, you felt the need to spread a message to others experiencing similar situations. What prompted your reaction and what exactly are you involved in that encourages other parents with special needs children?
DD:After having Joshua, initially I was not a drum major for him, nor had the desire to help others. When I had Joshua, I needed encouragement, hope and support and did not feel I received what I needed. At first I became angry at people that I shared in ministry with, including my husband at that time, family and friends because I felt no one said what I needed to hear. After accepting what God had allowed, I realized that perhaps they didn’t know what to say. Perhaps there was an unfair expectation I had which no one was aware of.
I begin to look around and realized there were not many people, particularly in the African American community, who were willing to encourage, equip, and empower parents who have children with special needs. I signed up with an on-line support group, which is more informational but does not minister nor provide the level of encouragement I need. The message I received is a simple one: based out of a biblical scripture found in John 9 verses 1-4. In summary, there was a man who was born blind at birth, and those who followed Jesus assumed that the man or his parents must have done something wrong to cause his situation. The revelation I received was, God will create situations and design individuals to display His work. In other words, having Joshua, and for parents who have children with special needs; God decided our children would grace our lives to be conduits of His Glory and that their presence is purposeful. I am an advocate in my community for individuals who have special needs; I have helped my church and am posturing myself to help other faith based communities to begin ministries/programs for families of children with special needs. I started a ministry at my church called PEP (Parents empowering Parents) and teach a summer school class at church entitled No Limits. I am a parent liaison for special education in Baltimore County, basically supporting parents of children at my son’s elementary school. I am also an adjunct professor for a community college, teaching adults with disabilities and adults with mental illnesses.
CP: Was there ever a time that you blamed God or yourself for what you have experienced?
DD: Oh God Yes—absolutely. I went the first three months of Joshua’s life appropriately giving answers of faith when people would call me or come around to visit. I would appear to be this woman of strength and faith and simply act as if I had it all together. The moment I was alone with my beautiful son, I would break down and cry, and express to God how I didn’t understand why He did this to me. I remember thinking God didn’t love me, and that perhaps all of the sins I committed in my past were never forgiven. I remember going through moments of self-hatred and even blamed Joshua’s condition on the problems I was having in my marriage. It wasn’t until that moment when I broke down and pounded my fist on my sofa asking God why. After I reminded God how faithful I was, how I love Him, preach for Him, live for Him and questioned why was He punishing me, God’s response was, “I am not punishing you. You have Joshua because I trust you. It’s so that my Glory will be revealed in and through His life.”
CP: What would you like to see happen as a result of the work you do on behalf of the persons with special needs in our society?
DD: I am hopeful and prayerful, that people in our society will become more sensitive to the needs of families who have persons with disabilities. In addition, I would like to see individuals, school systems, employers, and society at large openly welcome, embrace, learn from and assist individuals with special needs.
CP: What would you say is the biggest misconception about persons with special needs?
DD: The biggest misconception about persons with special needs is that they are unintelligent. I love working with Joshua, and adults with special needs because I learn so much from them. First of all they are extremely compassionate, and love to learn and explore. More importantly, individuals with special needs are capable of so much, when they have people supporting them and believing in them.
CP: How can other people become involved in this very important issue?
DD: First, I would say spend some time with families who have children or individuals with special needs, and see if there is anything that is needed. Often, just an opportunity to have an hour of free time is well appreciated. In addition, become educated about this matter.
CP: I always like to ask this question of those I get a chance to interview, How would you like to be remembered?
DD: I would like to be remembered as a beacon of light. Someone who has a proven track record of helping people transform their lives.
CP: What is the best advice you can give to anyone dealing with individuals with special needs in their families and/or communities?
DD: Love them unconditionally, place no limits on them, and believe in their success.
CP: You may leave any contact information, projects, books, materials, websites, etc. for our reading audience:
DD:firstname.lastname@example.org; www.readywriters.homestead.com; www.a-servantsheart.org. A Drink from the Well: Refreshment for the Soul (a devotional for women). I will be releasing an inspirational late fall for individuals who care of persons with disabilities.
Featured in WOW! Magazine May 2008