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Empowered to Educate

Our limitations as parents are opportunities to see God work.

Joseph Miller November 1, 2022

Catherine DePalma sits beside her 9-year-old son Anthony. She patiently explains directions for his next worksheet, but to no avail—he’s frustrated and stuck. Though she tries to redirect him, he has hit a wall. As a child with autism, Anthony has specific educational barriers. Some days are easier than others, but today Mom knows they both need a break.

Photography by Ben Rollins

DePalma wrestled with the decision to take on her son’s education. She felt that in public school, Anthony wouldn’t get the help he needed. Yet the thought of homeschooling made her worry, What qualifications do I have for teaching my special needs son?

Very little in life has turned out as she expected, DePalma admits. More than a decade ago, she and her husband Bob were newlyweds and new believers with complicated pasts. After the children of their blended family had grown, the couple hoped for a child together. Following four miscarriages, DePalma wondered why God wouldn’t bless her with a baby. Then she became pregnant with Anthony.

For the first year of his life, the child hit every developmental milestone. Then, seemingly overnight, he stopped talking. Doctors eventually diagnosed Anthony with apraxia of speech, a neurological disorder. For four years, the boy didn’t utter a word. When he did begin to speak again, it became clear that specialized education would be needed.

Thanks to her degrees, Catherine is better equipped to help Anthony.

DePalma spent countless hours in prayer, and she felt God was directing her to go to college for a degree in special education. She fielded some questions from family and friends about “going back to school at her age,” but DePalma knew the internet brought flexibility to the college experience. Though difficult to arrange, she could schedule coursework around homeschooling Anthony, being a homemaker, and taking care of the many animals on their property in the woods.  

As if the challenges of daily life aren’t considerable enough, DePalma also lives with a fluctuating amount of physical pain—the result of a car wreck in 2004. DePalma was thrown into the dashboard and after surgery was left with metal hardware in her spine. Sitting for long periods causes pain, as does repetitive motion like writing and typing. No matter how she feels, DePalma must often push through to focus on her classwork. She receives encouragement from the teaching of Dr. Stanley’s 30 Life Principles—No. 7 in particular: “The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.”
DePalma’s growing faith helped her come to terms with Anthony’s diagnosis. And with completed degrees in both special education and biblical studies, she now feels empowered to meet her son’s educational needs while also teaching him Scripture—today Anthony can memorize and recite Bible passages. Life’s not always easy, but one thing is certain: God is with her through every valley—and also on the heights.

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