Terri Devine is a typical mother to three children in many ways. Hopeful, busy and full of worry and excitement for her brood.
Her eldest child, a son named Jack, was born with Down syndrome. She learned to adjust to a 'new normal' right after he was born.
"My initial reaction was that I couldn't possibly do this. It's too hard. I have no special training. I don't know how to be a mom, let alone a mom to a baby with a disability. There is nothing special about me that qualifies me for this gig. Since he was my first baby, I was constantly questioning whether things that would happen were typical baby stuff or baby with Down Syndrome stuff," Devine says.
Devine not only had to figure out how she was going to do it, she had to grow accustomed to what friends and family would expect from her and her child.
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"I am constantly irked by the chronic well-meaning people who tell new parents such useless things like: Your baby is such a gift. You are such a special person. God only gives such babies to very special parents. You must be so strong; I could never do it."
In fact, though, she has done it. For 20 years now Devine has been raising Jack and wants you to know that she is not extraordinary in any way. She believes she is doing for her child what she expects anyone would do for their own--albeit with a different set of tools.
"Parenting a child with Down syndrome brings with it resources: a network of other parents, therapists, doctors and educators. It teaches new skills and redefines what is important in your life," Devine says.
Devine and her family have been part of the United Parent Support for Down Syndrome organization for many years. She says it has helped her entire family become empowered, educated and has afforded her with an amazing family-like support system.
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While Devine asserts that she sets goals and expectations for Jack like she does her other two children, she does acknowledge that some parents of special needs kids get caught up in the expectations society holds out for them.
"It is agonizing to hear a parent say about their child he can't...She would never, I just want to scream at them: DON'T BE THE EXPERT IN 'I can't'! Believe that your kids can or no one else will!"