When Your Child Is Different
It happened yesterday in the grocery store.
My youngest was with me. Although he is ten, he is not developmentally ten right now.
He was struggling. Like for reals. It was not going well.
I went through the usual guilt – Why did I bring him? I should have rearranged my plans and let him stay home.
I went through the usual bitterness – How are we going to eat if I cannot even get basic groceries? I just wanted some fresh fruit.
I also saw the usual stares. A lady actually said, “Well, I never,” shaking her head as she walked the other way.
At one point, he was lying on the floor. He said it felt better down there. I tried to overcome my anxiety about the germs, and sat down with him.
He smiled. He took a few moments to get himself together, and then got up and walked with me to the fruit section.
He just needed a little break. And he needed me to acknowledge it.
These moments happen all the time.
But it’s not the meltdowns or the behavior that clenches my mommy heart and won’t let go.
It’s the responses, the stares and the judgement.
It’s the realization that my child is different in a world that doesn’t do different very well.
My sweet friend Chrissy, from Life with Greyson + Parker articulates this so well. Both of her children are on the spectrum. Both are beautiful, capable, and loving.
Both are a little different.
Here are her words about her oldest son. They have been resonating with me for days.
This is my son Greyson.
By most people’s standards he is not an easy kid. Grey has autism. He does not always follow directions the first time you ask, or even on the tenth. He will challenge you. He’s stubborn, so you really have to think on your toes to out-stubborn or teach him, but it can be done. And when you are able to reach him and connect, it feels like the warm golden sunshine is shining just for you.
Grey does not sit quietly or nicely. He makes ticking and humming noises that sound funny to people who are not used to them. He may bump into you mistakenly. He’s not always aware of what his body is doing. He won’t play games with you or take an interest in what you are doing- (unless of course this is Lightning McQueen reading this). And lately Grey yells. A lot. A loud, disarming kind of yell. A yell that fills me with the same kind of anger you might feel after you stub your toe. I imagine if I had autism and could not speak- but desperately wanted to – I would probably yell too. A lot. We are working so hard to give him the tools to express himself in ways more socially acceptable, so he can feel less frustrated. Life isn’t easy for him.
All parents want their children to be loved and accepted. But when you have a child with special needs, there is also a burning fear that they won’t be. There will be times you see this happen first hand and you can feel it crush your lungs and the shiniest parts of your soul.
We all say we love and accept people who are different. And I think we mean it. It’s so easy to love people in words, but so much harder to do so in action. Because there’s usually an unspoken parenthesis after saying “I love and accept all people.” A parenthesis that says- as long as I am not disrupted or inconvenienced. As long as you follow my same morale compass. As long as you don’t look different. As long as I don’t have to invite you to my birthday party. As long as I do not have to hire you. As long as I don’t have to sit next to you. As long as I understand why you do what you do. As long as you do not make me feel uncomfortable.
But as a Momma, these parenthesis turn my heart inside out. I wish so desperately that God had made ME different instead of Grey. That God had granted him my voice. In the darkness of night I wake up and pray for a world that will genuinely include my son in this one life he’s been given. It’s not his fault that he is the one that is different. I wish making the world a more accepting place was like writing a term paper – and I could stay up all night and do whatever it takes to make that happen.
But instead, here I sit here with swollen, sobbing eyes doing the only thing I can do. Share my heart and my words to give you just a glimpse. And beg you to love different in action, not just in words. Grey’s different has made me into a better person than I ever could have been on my own. You may just find yourself learning huge and beautiful things about the world by letting a little different into your life too.
When Your Child Is Different
I need her words. Different changes us, for the better.
Different means learning and growing.
Different means truly understanding and accepting.
The truth is, once we get there, we see that we are not so different at all.
Our children are more alike than they are different.
Our mother hearts are more alike than they are different.
We laugh, we cry, we play, we get hurt, we relate, we try, we fail, we try again, and we love.
This post originally appeared here on Not The Former Things in 2016. It was part of an ongoing discussion based on the book
Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.