Our family of four was sitting at a picnic table at an Orange Beach playground this week. An 8 year old Alabama girl walked over to play with our clan and took a seat at the table. Within 3 minutes, she whispered to our daughter, “Does your brother have special needs?” This was met with confusion from our daughter and watery eyes from me. This is the first time a child has approached this subject so openly and honestly.
Our son looked at me and said, “Do I Mom? Do I have special needs?”
I explained to all the littles that we all have things about us that are unique and that we all have challenges. New friend was sweet and wide eyed and told us her friend back in Birmingham has ticks. Connection made. Dude explained his Tourettes and ADHD without blinking and ran off, joy oozing. When we met sweet girl’s parents, Dude lead with, “Hi, I have special needs!” Bam. There it is, hanging right out there with no qualms or shame. Because it was approached with no qualms or shame. It just was. Bama girl is part of the 50% who get it. The people who SEE him rather than seeing through him.
Our six year old daughter walks into a room and charms. Her blond locks, laced with expensive looking strawberry highlights draw your attention first. She makes eye contact, quietly greets, and proceeds to act like a typical 6 year old would. We don’t think twice about bringing her into a public space or a new crowd. Our ten year old son walks into a room and is immediately out of sorts. His blond locks and crystal blues draw people in, but a breath later, when he doesn’t make eye contact, walks past people briskly, and calls out something unexpected and off topic, we lose half our onlookers. 50% of the people we interact with on a day to day basis disregard our oldest blondie as “rude” or “unrelatable.” We see it every day.
Our dude WILL look the other way when you talk to him. He WILL avoid your gaze and maybe even turn his back while you broach conversation. Our dude will NOT answer your questions with grace and ease. He cant. He needs a hot minute to process what you just said and by the time that happens, you’ve lost him. He WILL whine if things don’t happen the way he expects them to because he doesn’t see other perspectives. He WILL give you his teeth clenched angry face when you negate what he wants to do or when he wants to do it. He gets past that in 2.5 seconds, but that moment looks defiant if you choose to see it that way. If you patiently draw his interest and get his eye balls, even for a second, he might flip a switch and direct his attention your way. If you use language that shows respect and kindness you’ll see those mirrored back. If you disregard him and assume he’s being rude, he’ll be rude right back. It’s black and white with our son. What he feels is what you get. What you dish out, he dishes right back.
What you intrinsically feel toward him, he extrinsically feels back. There’s no confusion on his part. He knows people. And he knows almost immediately what 50% you belong to. As does his Mama.
50% of this world see him as an awesome little mind capable of unique thinking they want to dive into. 50% love his off topic comments about the world and long to draw those thoughts out further. 50% are able to set aside the quirks that come across not so attractive and move forward with understanding and grace. The other half don’t. They get annoyed and assume things that break my heart. The other 50% stare or avoid my gaze with underlining thoughts I can read through their gaze. Thoughts I have to put aside for my own sanity and self confidence as his mother. The other 50% give up and offer phrases like, “It’s just not a fit” or “He just won’t listen and comply.” Those phrases have become commonplace at our house, gaining in frequency as he gets older, to the point that we have to assume them when walking into new situations. These 50% don’t see that holding little people like our son accountable for their behavior is a giant feet. Because they aren’t able to see their choices as the world sees them. We can’t discipline reactions out of him. Rewards and consequences are futile. 50% will never comprehend these truths. 50% will. Most of the time, this isn’t anyone’s “fault.” They’re not bad humans. We don’t carry ill will. But we DO have to recognize the existence of the two camps.
As parents of a little human who will inevitably get along with 50% of his world, we ebb and flow in grappling with daily choices. Who do we spend time with? Who gets him and offers abundant grace? How do we tackle teachers who see through him? (we might even be crazy enough to pull him and home school). Where do we vacation and who can vacation alongside us sans judgement and getting overwhelmed? How do we choose extracurriculars with people who value his presence? They do exist, but it takes an exorbitant amount of endurance and research to find them. And equal amounts to stick with it and venture through the bumps. Bumps are part of the game. Every day. The people we keep close understand this and see him clearly. See us clearly. Those who don’t? We don’t hold hostility, but we don’t have space to invest in how they fit into our world. They can’t fit. They’re not safe for our little human, which makes them unsafe for us as a family. It’s not our job to enlighten and educate and its taken me years to reach that conclusion. It IS our job to pave a productive way for our family and to grow and adjust in that journey. That’s job enough friends.
I do want to gently note and encourage that switching camps is possible. Seeing people rather than seeing through them is something we can all strive for. On so many levels. I had no choice but to switch camps when I was gifted this intricate little man. Living it will do that naturally, but so many gifted writers and teachers long to educate and aid people looking to join the 50% who see people like our son. There’s an endless supply of insightful and enlightening books about every topic under the sun that deserve more attention in our lives. These books live at Amazon. A click and 2 night delivery away. What if we all picked ONE? Myself included. Because actually seeing each other will do this planet a world of good.