When I was little I was taught to have manners. To be kind. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” …and NOT to stare!
So I thought I was a pretty good kid. I never stared at the kids (or adults for that matter) with special needs. Not at school. Not at the store. Not at church when no one was looking. Never — I never talked to them either.
I can’t say I remember anyone with special needs in my school days. I have faint recollections, but then they vanish. Who were these kids? Did anyone notice they were more than just their special needs? What’s worse: to be stared at or be completely invisible?
As a mother now of a child with special needs, these thoughts run through my mind often. Why didn’t I try to know these kids? Was I scared of embarrassing them…or myself? Was I just scared of not knowing what to say? Why wouldn’t a kid with special needs still be just a kid? Why wouldn’t I just know they watch cartoons and eat candy and have parents who adore them, and brothers and sisters who play with them, a puppy who licks their face? But I didn’t. I didn’t let myself think that far. I just minded my manners and my own business. Did the other kids know better than I did? I always thought of myself as a good kid. But looking back…I’m not so sure.
Now I’m the mother, and I can’t help but think back to those kids and their mothers. Were they scared to send their kid to a school with potential cruelty? Did they desperately want their child to laugh and make friends and enjoy their day learning? Did they worry all day at not being there to explain to their child why some people act the way they do? How did they deal with the fear, knowing their child would probably be hurt…or ignored in someway that day?
I can’t say I have it figured out. I was like most kids, not hurtful on purpose. But maybe I kept quiet when I saw others purposfully hurting someones feelings. Or was I one of those mean kids? Sadly, I just don’t remember. I hope not.
So, I guess that’s why I have more tolerance than most when confronted with ignorance about my son now, or the topic of special needs in general. No one is perfect. Most people are kind. Most pretend not to notice our quirky son. And most people just don’t understand or know what to say. As he gets older, I feel I have to explain his actions more often. Occasionally someone does say something insensitive, but usually it’s because they are trying to reach out. And that’s good. I know that one only knows what life has allowed them to experience thus far, and we might be that turn in the road for them. I also know that some people just don’t care to be bothered and won’t allow themselves to feel what life for someone other than themselves is like. There are hateful people out there. But they will pass in and straight out of our lives. Because frankly, “ain’t nobody got time for that”. The world is full of all kinds of people. I can’t change that. What I can change is the way I live my life.
I have learned first hand how powerful an exchanged look is. A smile. It’s so simple. In my life when I see someone out in the world who is special in ways I don’t understand, or I see their mother or father so lovingly focused on their care and also guarded in their expression to the outside world… I know now. I know there is nothing that needs to be said. No apology. No pity. I just simply smile and nod a look of “you’re here, I see you here,” “I admire your strength in a life I don’t understand”, “your child looks happy and loved”. So many things can be shared in one genuine look and smile. And it just boils down to being seen. Accepted. Not ignored. And that’s enough. It’s everything.
So for my family, my friends, my community: I will invite them in to my world. I will answer questions and share my son and his struggles and triumphs. Not because it’s easy, but because then he will be real to them. He will be seen. And maybe they will even like what they see. Hopefully they will share about my great kid to their children. And maybe their children will go to school the next day and think to look and smile at a kid from the specials class. Maybe one day they’ll make an unexpected friend. Maybe it’ll be my Simon. They’d be lucky if it were.
Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more.