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From parents of differently-abled kids: please love them

by

Opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.

Backpacks drop. Shoes, they plop. Words rush and tumble like stones swirling about in a bubbling brook. And then it comes.

“They’ve abandoned us,” he says. His tone is matter of fact. I look up. What?

“At the lunch table.” I reach for another shirt. Spray and scrub. Spray and scrub.

“The autistic kid’s been sitting with us.”

Oh. This is news. For years, he’s eaten at the same table in the same lunchroom with the same group of friends. I’ve heard it often in these after-school conversations. And now a new fellow has joined them.

“Everyone else got up and left.” There’s no anger in his voice. My nonemotive child is simply telling me what happened. “Everyone but me and my friend.”

Just like that, I’m in the lunchroom, watching it unfold. I hear the clink of spoons, smell the noontime aromas. See tables, round, filled with kids who belong. And I see the one, uncertain and socially awkward, who needs a space to sit, a place to belong.

I’m still kneeling on the laundry room floor. My son, he finishes the story as I toss in the soiled shirt. “Everyone else just got up and left, everyone but us.” I’m still listening.

“He apologized. He said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble.’ And I said, ‘It’s not you. It’s them.’”

I’m stunned. Disbelieving. Proud. I look at him, my blue-eyed, freckle-faced boy-turning-man, and I say it. “I’m proud of you. That’s exactly what Jesus would do. He will bless you for that.”

This poignant lunchtime encounter took place 11 years ago in a middle school up the road. Recently, as I reflected on this story again, I put three questions to my readers. “To those of you who have disabled (differently-abled) kids, what would you like me to know about them? Have people generally been loving and kind? If you could name one blessing he or she has brought you, what would it be?”

Their answers were enlightening. These loving, engaged mothers had plenty to say about their special-needs children. “Our son has a degenerative muscular disorder, which puts him on the autism spectrum. He is mentally delayed,” one mother said. “He’s so happy and innocent.”

“My son has Angelman Syndrome and is nonverbal. He takes total care, but is pleasant and easy to care for. He has been a blessing and comfort to me since I’m a widow,” a commenter replied.

Another mother said this, “I would say that people with an intellectual disability generally do not wear masks like ‘normal’ people do. Our adult son is high functioning, and some people find it hard to know how to relate. He can sense very quickly who accepts him.”

Concerning the second question, several mothers replied that for the most part, people have been good and kind. One mother, a teacher, responded, “When it’s an invisible disability, people aren’t always kind, but overall people don’t say anything. They do tend to stay away as they don’t know how to relate to her.”

Another woman said it like this, “Mostly people have been kind. I feel sorry for the ones who haven’t been (kind), but I don’t fault them because they’ve very possibly not walked in my moccasins. They also don’t know what they’re missing, not knowing my son!”

In a heartbreaking private message, one woman shared her 12-year-old autistic son’s experience of being bullied, struck, and bloodied by his peers. “It does no good,” she said, “to talk to their moms because they are sure their kids are faultless. Thank God, these families are in the minority, and most people are kind. My son is so loved and celebrated at his school.”

In spite of the tremendous difficulties these women faced, they were quick to share the gifts their beloved children have given them. They expressed no self-pity, but gave thanks.

From Joanna: “I’ve learned to enjoy little things in life. I’m also being the hands and feet of Jesus, caring for one of his special lambs. My heart is happy knowing his heart is safe in Jesus and not bothered by the things of this world.”

From A.: “My daughter has taught me to be humble as a parent/person and to be a much more understanding teacher toward students and parents than I would be if I didn’t have experience living with a non-neurotypical child.”

From M.: “I agree with (Joanna) that we are the hands and feet of Jesus, caring for his special lambs. What a privilege!”

From Rebecca: “The blessing? It has opened up a whole circle of friends we would not have met otherwise. Is it easy to parent a child with disabilities? For us, that answer would be no. And we are not special parents because God chose us to have a special-needs son. But God has given us grace and joy in the journey.”

From C.: “This whole thing has given me the perfect opportunity to learn to live above offense. Being (his) mom brings me so much joy, and I refuse to let anything take that away. My biggest wish is that more parents would teach their kids to be kind and compassionate and treat these special kids like humans. It doesn’t matter if you know what to say to them, just the fact that you see them and say hi and listen to them talk makes their day.”

Finally, Karen’s words hold the hope and inspiration that we need. “Our son with Down’s syndrome has taught us to speak a new language, one that cannot be translated through words, but only through living. The world has been good and kind to him, and never before has there been such an inviting place for people like him to live. The few people who may be unkind through fear or ignorance are opportunities for us to open doors to new ways of thinking which may, in turn, transform their lives also.”

This is not too hard for us to do. It is not asking too much to extend the hand of kindness and the light of love to all of God’s special children and to those who are caring for them so faithfully. In this way, we can bring some heaven down to earth. May it ever be so.

You can hear America’s small, caffeinated mom on the newly-syndicated James Golden Show every Saturday morning. Humorous and reflective by turns, it’s always encouraging. Join them there.