On Aisle 9: Three Things My Special Needs Son Can Teach You About Life

At six-years old, he is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had. Every single day, I sit in his classroom, in his world, and take notes. With fewer words spoken than most children his age, his lectures speak volumes about perspective and perseverance. His is not a class about receiving a passing grade, rather a class where attendance matters most. I have learned to be present in turmoil and tantrums and in times of unimaginable joy. In both cases, there are great lessons to be learned, when I stay present in each moment, not behind it, not in front of it. Here are three life-changing notes from his class:

1. PERSPECTIVE.. IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU CHOOSE TO SEE IT.  It was a random question, I’ll admit. He had found the place called, happy, and lay on the grass totally content. One of my favorite childhood games was finding unique shapes in the clouds; birds, giraffes, lollipops. Unsure of just how complicated that game would be for him, I simply asked, “Grant, what color is the sky?” I was prepared for the answer of blue or white. “Day. The sky is day.” What a beautiful color. “Do you like day,” I asked. “Yes. Eat ice cream. Pop bubbles. Go to aquarium. Go to park. No night.” I still get chills when I think about what he was saying and the poetic way he went about it. With a dimpled-smile he listed everything that he could and wanted to do while it was day. Day to him was the color that allowed for adventures and sweet treats and fun.

It would have been wrong and completely unnecessary to correct him. In that moment I learned the eye-opening lesson of seeing through another person’s lens. All of my life the sky was blue, white, gray or black because that’s what I was told it was. I wonder what colors I could have seen had I not let society tell me what colors to see. Now I know that “day” and “storm” are true colors. I’m sure of it.

2. BE HONEST WITH FEAR AND FREEDOM WILL COME:  I’ve always thought raindrops were for the most part gentle; water’s creative way of entertaining us through tap dance. For my son though, being in the rain was pure torture. Something about the way the uncontrollable darts of liquid touched his face would send him into piercing screams and meltdowns. He hated it, but more than that I believe he hated what the fear of it made him do, made him feel, helpless. Oftentimes, I would let him feel the texture of the water from the shower head, hoping he wouldn’t be so terrified of it the next time around.

Imagine my complete surprise on the day he looked out the window and asked to go into the rain. What happened next changed everything. He hated it, but he stood there. He screamed, but he stood there. Every muscle in his body begged him to run, but he stood there. I literally cried when I heard him repetitively saying to himself these two words, “Just water. Just water. Just water.” Directly behind fear was freedom, and that day, he would own it. When the rain slacked up there was the most beautiful son-shine! Every fear he has had since then has been met with the same self-determination; face the fear, find the freedom. It’s the reason why, though hesitant, he was able to ride a horse for the first time last week. The only horse he had seen until that time was pictured in his animal books, and he could turn the page if he was uncomfortable looking at it. He fled at the sight of the horse’s large teeth and the strange sound of him chomping on a carrot. But at his request, he rode that horse, and galloped his way out of fear. That freedom made him laugh.

Since then I’ve learned to stand in my rain, and as uncomfortable as it may be, it’s just water…

3. KNOW EXACTLY WHERE YOUR SMILE IS:  Every night before my children go to bed, I encourage them to do something they like to do. I think that energy brings good dreams and peaceful rest. My oldest daughter, 11, who has her own bookmark company, enjoys crafting and creating new story lines. My youngest daughter, 4, likes reading to her dolls and stuffed animals. Grant absolutely loves getting dressed up. He has organized his closet with specific places for his ties, his button-down shirts, plaid and plain, his sports jackets, and his shoes. It’s hilarious to watch him take off his pajamas and completely transform into a news anchor, or a clothing stylist, or a motivational speaker! That’s where his smile is. That’s where his joy is, and no one can take that away.

I learned to find my genuine smile, everyday, no matter how difficult the day has been. I want to smile as sincerely as my son does at the thought of doing what he loves.

For that reason, I will keep writing.

As a parent, what are some of the things you have learned from your own children?

More from GEM:

Our Story Begins: Store-Bought VS. Homemade… A Man On A (Food) Mission 

Life Lessons: Ellen Gerstein

Ask Rene: Should I Take Any Old Job?

 

Sarena James is a writer and enjoys the sanity that brings. When her son was diagnosed with autism, she started a blog www.onaisle9.com, which became her platform to advocate for families of children with special needs. It serves as a forum for conversations and a place to exchange ideas… judgment free.

A married mother of three beautiful children, Sarena’s other passion is theater and she has served as theater coach and consultant for the public school system. When she’s not on stage you may find her script writing for future performances. Originally from Aurora, Colorado, she is a Paine College graduate. She and her family currently live near Charleston, SC. Follow her on Twitter @OnAisle9.

5 Comments

  1. Heather

    August 6, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Just beautiful! Reading this gave me chills!

  2. Lisa A

    August 6, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Excellent piece. From one mom to another, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Patricia Palmer

    August 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I truly enjoy your writing!!! I work with children with special needs and your writing make me look forward to the things I learn from each one of them. I’ve learned so much and if our parents were as attentive to their children as you are, they would appreciate what it’s like seeing and putting the puzzle pieces together from their child’s point of view. Keep writing and sharing Grant with the world, he is too special to keep him to yourself…I’ve watch him grow through your writing.

  4. Suzanne Graham

    August 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    You two are the most inspirational I have met in such a long time, well at least since January 2012 when I met Jamie. I love your writings. I have been inspired to learn more about autism, and my favorite days involve working with these children. Thank you, and continue in your good works

  5. Janet Robinson

    September 1, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Sarina,
    Through all the pain and all the rain, God has given you awesome gain. Grace in turbulence, Answers in storms, Integrity in difficulties, and Nerve in Fear. You are an outstanding woman of God and I am very grateful for you and your family.

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