On Being Joe’s Mom: Why Inclusion Is Important To This Mother

Updated: Jun 22

One of the most important speeches about inclusion and the mindset of a mother with a child with disabilities that you may ever hear. Watch this ten-minute video. It just might change how you think about parenting a child with a disability.

The following is a transcript of the Lia Tremblay’s speech at Highland United Methodist Church, Colonial Heights, Virginia. May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day). This is published with permission.

Good morning, everyone.

It says here I’m one of the five people in the Tri-Cities that you should get to know, but the person I really think you should know about is my son, Joe, who will be 6 years old soon. He loves a good book, enjoys a Reese’s Cup after dinner almost every night, and has some pretty sweet dance moves. I’m not exaggerating when I say he greets every day with a big smile.

Joe is also very different from most children his age. He doesn’t speak (though he makes a lot of noise), his walk is a little wobbly, and he needs help with things like dressing, eating and bathing.

His disabilities didn’t become apparent until he was a couple of months old, when he began to miss milestones and seem increasingly different from other babies his age. I began to worry constantly about why he wasn’t reaching for toys, or pushing up with his arms to look around, or sitting without a pillow to prop him up.

When our pediatrician confirmed that my worry was not just a side effect of brand-new motherhood, and that we had a real problem on our hands, I was aghast. This was not what I’d planned for at all. I wanted to get on with the normal mothering experience I had looked forward to. I wanted the whirlwind of neurologists, geneticists and orthopedists to eventually become a funny story about how we had overreacted to our perfectly normal child’s momentary delay.

So I began to pray, every night and throughout each day, for him to change. Please let him see properly. Please make him notice the toys we put in front of him. Please let him reach for things and play and explore. Please let him sit up and interact with the other babies at the play dates.

Then one evening, my husband and I were watching a documentary in which a man was asked how he felt when he learned that his younger brother was deaf. His answer stopped me cold. I later went back and transcribed it word for word (imagine this in a British accent):

At the time, I was desperately hoping that it wouldn’t be true, that somehow some sort of miracle would happen and he would turn out not to be. But then I told myself, “Well, if he weren’t, then he wouldn’t be the same person, and it would be wishing that this person didn’t exist.” So that wasn’t the appropriate way to think about it.

What a revelation. How much time had I spent wanting this adorable infant to be different, to become the baby I assumed I would get instead of the sweet little person he was? I’d spent years dreaming of a child, 42 weeks carrying him, and 24 hours bringing him into the world, but now I’d wasted so much precious time wishing that I would wake up and find a totally different baby. It made no sense.

So from that day forward, I stopped praying that Joe would become the typical child that we’d planned for. Instead, I began praying that I could become the mother he needed.

That meant helping him to achieve his potential without wishing his potential were different. It meant spending as much time as possible just relishing sweet moments with him, and being grateful for every hair on his sweet head. It meant doing everything I could to make sure that he felt nothing but love for being exactly who he is.

As the baby years gave way to toddler years and preschool years, I was still learning new ways to be the mother Joe needed. I figured out how to keep him involved in those play dates, even when they revolved around things he couldn’t do. I practiced ways to explain his