The first time someone asked if my son was slow, I said, “At what?” Certainly they couldn’t be referring to his physical ability. At age three, he could out run most children twice his age, some even older. Before he could speak words, he could write clearly and beautifully. He was quick at figuring out things, like how to open the locked doors in the house; he broke an uncooked spaghetti noodle in half and for him, it became a key. He could type. Watching “Deal or No Deal” he could enter the numbers in a calculator exactly as they appeared. He could put puzzles together. He could tell you the make and model and parts of over fifty vehicles. He could dress himself, impeccably.
Slow? I don’t like that word, for my child, or any other child.
The danger of assumptions is that they operate without additional research or attempts. They easily become truth to those who willingly accept them. Assumptions are lazy and do nothing but feed the roaring beast that is stereotypes. I spent nearly an hour disassembling what this lady put together about children with special needs, different needs. No, they are not all incapable of learning or being successful socially. No, they are not all medicated because they can’t function otherwise. No, I do not have a false set of expectations nor am I in denial that my son will challenge every statistic that tells him what he can’t do. They are children first; human beings first. And every approach to life and learning should be handled from that perspective.
TEACH ME AND ALLOW ME TO LEARN
One of the biggest disservices to any child is to decide that because of certain circumstances, they can’t learn, and as a result not teach or only give a diluted lesson. I’ve always found it interesting how plants grow and the environment in which they thrive best. The soils, the temperature, even the season, are all factors that affect its growth. The path of learning is different for all of us. Writing is one of my son’s strengths and if he can write it, he can remember it. So, our kitchen wall is painted in chalkboard paint, a nine-foot black wall or rich soil in which his handwriting and speech has grown significantly!
Olympics, modem, Chevrolet, downtown, politics, basketball, jambalaya, are a sampling of the words that end up on the wall, and he can write it and tell you a little about each one. It was a small decorative sacrifice, (seriously, two quarts of paint and a box of neon sidewalk chalk), that created an entirely different learning environment. No regrets…
BELIEVE IN ME UNTIL I BELIEVE IN MYSELF
Something absolutely amazing happens when you look into a child’s eyes and tell them these four words: “You can do it!” It’s like watching a kite fly freely when it finally finds the perfect wind to support it. Last weekend my husband took Grant for a surfing lesson. Quite honestly, I was hesitant. Unsure of how he would handle the feel or sound of the waves underneath his belly, I was nervous for him. Raphael assured both of us (mostly me) that Grant needed to at least try. “He’s my son. I will be there with him for as long as it takes.” Release of the mommy grip.
When they returned home and I saw the photos, I cried! Grant did it! He went surfing! Again, he faced the fear and found the freedom. It took someone believing that he could do it, in spite of some unique challenges and hurdles. At bedtime that evening he said, “Mommy, Grant surfed.” Indeed you did son…
FIGHT WITH ME, NOT AGAINST ME
By the time Grant threw the second block across the room and slammed the patio door, rattling the hinges, I knew that there was something different about this particular meltdown. He was hurting, hurting physically, and hurting because he could not tell me why. “OW!” At the time, that is the only word that found its way through the maze of his speech. When I finally got him to calm down, multiple kicks and grunts later, I saw it. There below his right eye was a bump that was growing, a mosquito bite.
I said, “Grant you have a mosquito bite. Does it itch?” “Yes! OW! Band-aid! Ice!” Language, that’s exactly what he needed to fight with! After I treated the bite, I insisted he pick up the blocks and the planter that was knocked over when he slammed the patio door. He did.
Then something beautiful and peculiar happened. He kept repeating, “Grant has mosquito bite. Grant has mosquito bite.” He was smiling, then laughing, almost doubled-over with joy! I didn’t understand why until a few days later when he was bit again. He came running in the house smiling and said, “Grant has mosquito bite.” He had it, the tool to fight with…language. No tantrum, he simply told me what was wrong.
On the worst of days, the enemy is never my son. The battle is not against our children because they learn or react in ways that are not the norm. In supporting them, not alienating them, we give them a chance to run the race of life. The worst handicap is the inability to accept different abilities.
So what about you GEM Nation? What dangerous assumptions are being made about your children?
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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.