December 8, 1991. The morning started innocently enough. My wife Donna and I were taking our daughter, Hatley, to the University of Tennessee Boling Center. Hatley, just shy of her second birthday, was a little late on some of her developmental milestones and the pediatrician wanted to put her through some tests. When we met with the doctor to discuss the results, we never anticipated what we were about to hear. The doctor started by saying, “your daughter will never drive a car, never go to college and will likely never marry….she is mildly mentally retarded.” She went on to explain the results of the tests, but I heard little else after her opening statement. I don’t know if I was angrier about her lack of “bed-side manner” or her audacity in making such definitive statements about our 23-month-old daughter’s future after only a few hours of tests.
We were in a state of shock on the way home from the doctor’s office. Within hours, we were mapping out our next steps. We were blessed to have the resources to find the best doctors in the country to deal with Hatley’s issues, and I was determined to prove that doctor wrong. Over the next several years, we saw numerous specialists in Memphis, Washington D.C. and Chicago. We learned that we were dealing with a combination of several diagnoses: Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), epilepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)… a challenging combination to say the least!
Being somewhat hardheaded, it took me several years to realize that Donna and I had very little control over the issues facing Hatley. Early intervention certainly helped in some areas, but in reality, we found ourselves on the path outlined by the doctor in 1991.
The challenges of raising a special needs child are significant and impact every area of your life. It is easy to understand why such a high percentage of marriages involving a special needs child end in divorce.
It took me almost four years after Hatley’s initial diagnosis to realize we had little control over Hatley’s future. It was at that point that I began to pray daily that the Lord’s will be done in Hatley’s life and that he take control. As Psalms 55:22 states, “Cast your burden on the Lord and he shall sustain you.” Not long thereafter, he led us to a wonderful school (Madonna Learning Center in Memphis) where Hatley has developed in so many ways.
I would love to tell you everything has been great since that point, but that would be a lie. In truth, things have gotten much more challenging through the years. We regularly experience significant behavior issues beyond the imagination of most parents. It has been very tough on our other two children, as Hatley can exhibit inappropriate behavior that can be especially embarrassing to them when we are in public or they have friends over to the house. But despite these challenges, Hatley has been a blessing. And only by trusting in the Lord have we been able to realize that blessing.
Hatley is 19 now and we are at another crossroads with her life. Like most 19 year olds, she is beginning to seek more independence. We have been told by the experts that just as normal teenagers look forward to college and the independence it brings, Hatley is, in her own way, experiencing similar feelings. Once again, Donna and I believe we must trust in the Lord and know that he will lead us to the best answer for her.
As I like to remind people, I know the end of the story. No, I don’t know what Hatley’s future looks like in this world, but I can say with certainty that the Lord has a special place for her in his Heavenly Kingdom… a special place indeed, for a special young lady. She will not be encumbered with the challenges of this world. She will be perfect in every way and her former shortcomings won’t matter. I can’t wait!
T. Michael Glenn Executive Vice President of Market Development and Corporate Communications at FedEx Corporation. He is a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.