“I had no idea what they were going through.” “I just didn’t know.” These are the statements I hear over and over again when advocating for special needs from pastors, organizations, people, humanitarian groups and the list goes on. How is it that individuals with special needs have been around forever and yet the challenges are still a mystery to most of society?
I’m sure there are many reasons that one could debate is the cause behind the lack of awareness. If it’s not the hot topic in society it is easy to get overlooked. If families are so busy taking care of their child 24/7, shut in at their house, it’s easy to be forgotten. When it’s so challenging and it becomes an ‘event’ just to leave the house, it can be so exhausting and difficult. Some have it much harder than others. My heart many times aches for them.
Yet, the flip side is that when we stay shut in because it’s too exhausting and we’re not out in the community, it’s easy for someone to say “I had no idea.” I understand those cases where you are dealing with serious medical challenges which don’t allow you to do what you would like for the sake of a person’s health. My heart is not to say who has it harder or who has it easier, or ‘this is what they should do’. I guess what I am saying is how can we bridge the gap that brings more awareness where more people can understand and more people can connect in a positive way?
One thing that I’ve tried not to do in the journey with our son Connor is let fear and obstacles stop us from living life and sharing about our sons amazing gifts and challenges. But it’s not always been easy. One day all of the kids were playing out in the front of our street like neighborhood kids do. We had always been protective of Connor and I have to admit I was a little afraid of how others might treat him with his challenges. But that day Connor looked out the window and before I knew it he was outside running and jumping around the other kids yelling “Yahoo!” My first inclination was to go out and bring him in so they wouldn’t stare at him like any child would who didn’t understand. But I waited. It was the spirit of God prompting me not to intervene. Under my breath I’m praying “please let them go on playing or please let one of the kids be nice to him.” It was wishful thinking because the next thing I knew every ball dropped to the ground, everyone stopped what they were doing, and everyone had a weird look on their face and just stared. My heart sunk. Immediately my emotions were to go out and bring Connor in so he can be safe and protected. But then I heard God speak to me and say, “who are you protecting, Connor or your feelings?” Wow! God knows how to ask the questions that we don’t always want to hear.
So instead of walking out there to take my son in, I walked out there and put my arm around my son. I asked the kids if they knew what autism was. Everyone shook their heads no. So I began to explain to them about Connor and why he reacts differently and what makes him so unique with having autism. Then something beautiful happened. One of the more popular girls on the block asked if she could play with Connor. Surprised, I said sure. And for the next 30 minutes they played in Connors clubhouse and she observed Connor and interacted with him. The next week I came home from work and I hear Connor counting down in the backyard: “5-4-3-2-1- Blast Off!” And there is Connor holding hands with 3 girls on one side and 3 girls on the other side jumping into the pool. Every boy in the neighborhood probably would have probably to be Connor at that point. Ha! He was having a blast!
Now all the kids in our neighborhood understand that Connor has autism. They don’t look at him the same way they did before we came out of the house and shared his life with them. Sometimes people don’t know because we’re too protective or afraid to let them know. It’s safer in protective areas like our house. But if we really want to see our kids grow and bring awareness sometimes we have to take a chance and go outside.
When I moved from sunny Southern California to Seattle, Washington it was a big change. When it rained in California we would usually go inside. That’s what you did. So the first six months while living in Seattle we almost became shut-ins, because it was raining most of the time. We hardly ever went out to play or interact with people. It got depressing from basically moving from one building to the next. Then one day I talked to a Seattle native and I said don’t you ever get depressed staying in because it’s so cloudy and raining all the time. He said, “we don’t stay in. We golf in the rain, play in the rain, we do all sorts of things in the rain. It rains here 260+ days out of the year. If you don’t get out in the rain you don’t live life fully.”
Those of us who are families with special needs can feel the same way. More days than not we can feel like it’s overcast, always raining (figuratively speaking). So instead of pushing through we stay shut in. We hardly ever get out and interact with people. Maybe people don’t know about us because people rarely see us. It’s not until we decide to go out even in the rain (challenges) that we can live life to the fullest. My son would have never made that connection with those boys and girls if we would have kept him ‘protected’ in the house.
Maybe the more out and about people see us the more conversations and awareness can take place so that one day instead of hearing people say “I had no idea, they will say: ”I know them!”