I was the single person who looked down at parents who couldn’t “control” their kids in public. “My child will never act like that.” “That is what is wrong with the world. Parents don’t teach their kids respect and that they can’t always get what they want.” “They need to discipline their kid.” Yes, I was that jerk.
I was the teenager and twenty something who never dreamed in a million years that when starting a family I would have a special needs child. There were only a handful of special needs kids in our school and you didn’t see them often, so I guess it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. I was kind of socially inept to begin with so I wasn’t comfortable with my own peers and special needs made me downright uncomfortable. I became a little more aware my senior year when I did a student teaching class and spent some time in a special needs class and became a little curious but I still wasn’t comfortable. It never was a reality that I thought about happening to me, that my own children could be in classrooms like those. I was so NAIVE.
I had just been introduced to parenthood with a three month NICU trial by fire and before Cameron was even out of the hospital for three months we were in therapy. I WAS SURROUNDED. I was in a world I never imagined existed. My small hometown didn’t have a place like this and here I was so far in over my head it was laughable. I had never realized babies that little could need therapy. Remember what I said about being naive? I had kids rolling past me in all types of wheelchairs, reclining chairs that reminded me of large sized strollers, standing chairs, miniature walkers, leg braces, walking with elbow crutches, parents bringing their infants in with oxygen or feeding tubes or trach tubes and I’m sitting right there with them carrying a portable monitor that measured my son’s breathing and heart rate.
Eleven years later and we are still a part of the special needs world. There are a lucky few who are only in therapy for a while and then they graduate and this world is behind them. Most kids are not that lucky. The reality is most of these children do not outgrow their conditions, some things may become more manageable, but it is lifelong.
I became the parent in the store trying to placate my child’s tantrum so that I could finish grocery shopping. I became the parent who cried when I got to the parking lot or home because I had felt the stares, felt the disapproval of my parenting skills that were sorely lacking. I became the parent who avoided situations and made my home a place to hide from the world.
There is a whole other world out there right under our noses. It is filled with magic and wonder and miracles and they are not the kind you see in Harry Potter movies. Do not get me wrong Harry Potter is awesome but this kind of magic cannot be accomplished with a magic wand, it cannot be experienced by looking into a special pool of water, and the miraculous inventions and creatures of those kinds of worlds are nothing in comparison to the world I have found.
I get to see the magic in a small milestone met and the happiness and sometimes tears that it brings. I see the wonder of the world around me transformed by the imaginations of children. Sitting in the hallways at therapy and listening to the children go by with their therapists and hearing the incredible tales they weave and let you glimpse inside their minds, the many worlds they have created. AND MIRACLES? Oh those are the things dreams are made of and they are performed by those magical beings who do not need wands and we call them therapists. In my world I see miracles daily in my sons and the children in the world I discovered eleven years ago.
So while sometimes my world is hard I have learned to embrace it. Embracing it is not easy but oh how beautiful it can be. For all of you out there my hope for you is that you may glimpse this world, embrace its beauty, and spread awareness that different is not less.