It's hard to be the mom of a 'special' kid. I mean, really, don't we all think our kids are special. Each has character traits that are unique to them, each has a talent in which we praise them for, each has a manner about them that tugs at a mother's heartstrings. But, some are more 'special' than others. I am the mother of one of those 'special' kids.
Yesterday I took Kaeden to his first day of high school. I walked the halls of the school with him, his backpack hunched over his shoulder, and really looked at my son. It's hard to look at his face and see a 'special' kid hiding there behind his golden eyes, his perfectly shaped face, his bright smile, and his charming manner. And yet, there is something just a little different about him.
I can't put my finger on it as I look from afar, testing my own logic as I try to weed out the perfection I see in my own child. But as I look at him from down the long hallway, his stance is just slightly off-balance, his eyes staring ahead as if deep in thought, not really registering all that is happening around him, or maybe precisely the reverse, and he's taking in too much. The way his fingers are positioned at his side, just ever so crooked. When someone comes upon him and speaks to him directly, he doesn't respond, but continues to stare ahead. I go to him and say: Kaeden, aren't you going to tell Mrs. .... hello?
I am always trying to help him participate in conversation, help him see the proper manner of social contact, putting a smile on my face as I shake her hand and tell her we are here for our first day of school, apologizing in my own response of: Kaeden is interested in what is happening in the class. And then to my son, still trying to involve him in our conversation: Right, Kaed?
And he looks at me, although avoids contact with her eyes, as he shakes his head yes, though I am uncertain if he knows what the question was in the first place. Still, it is a response, and I sigh with relief as we continue on our journey. As we walk, I tell him: Kaeden, when someone says hello, it's nice if we speak back to them. As I place my hand upon his shoulder, he shakes it off. He's feeling overwhelmed, and this is my first sign that this is so. He cannot handle human contact when he's overly stimulated. This is one of the pains that tugs at my heart in dealing with autism. Touch hurts. And just when you most want to support your child in the most natural manner possible, with a reassuring touch, or a hug, or even a glance, you can't. He cannot handle it at those times.
We sat in the classroom where the kids who can't handle social interaction go during breaks. This is a classroom in which my son will frequent. A place where he can feel safe, a release from all social obligations, a place where he has a special task of working alone to assure he isn't a burden to other students,can't harm them with his physical presence or nasty words. It is an inviting place, with all kinds of activities in which to partake, woodworking tools, computers, games...and yet, it is isolated. We go over his schedule, the classes he will need to seek out and find on his own, the times that he'll need to be in a different building, and even though the teacher discussing it all with us knows Kaeden, has worked with him, and understands his needs, I can see that nothing we say at that moment is registering in his mind. He keeps talking about Hannah, a little girl in our neighborhood who has also been diagnosed with autism and attends this same school, the elementary school, but whom he will see on the bus at the end of the day. He can't, at this moment, take part in the conversation surrounding his school schedule.]
We go into his homeroom class. I look in at his classmates as they introduce themselves to my son. The teacher asks if he knows any of the faces. He responds with: No. I take over here. "Kaeden, look, I see Marlon there. he is your friend." as I point at the boy that came to his birthday party last year. "Yeah, I know Marlon," he replies. But the thing that strikes me most is that of the five kids, two are noticeably handicapped. Their facial features show a disability, and at that moment I am fileld with shame as I wonder why my son, my beautiful, perfect child is coming into this class. He doesn't even look like he has a handicap.
And then, as we part ways from this classroom, I am filled with even more shame, and a great big ole portion of realism. BUT YOUR BEAUTIFUL BOY IS HANDICAPPED. It hits me like a load of bricks as maybe, for the first time ever, I am awakening to the fact that my son is disabled. And, he's in a place for disabled children, where he can learn to be his best with the goods God has given him. He fits in here. He belongs. This is the one place in the world where he truly fits in, where he won't be judged or looked down upon for the strange mannerisms, strange stance, inability to read and write and speak in a normal voice tone. This is the palce my son needs to be.
I tell Kaeden goodbye, pat him on the back, and he doesn't shrug away from my touch. As I walk out the doors of the school and look around me, I see all those children, each walking with backpacks hunched on their backs, some with noticeable physical deformations, some with absolutely nothing I can see from just a glance, and I am filled with shame. Shame for thinking I am better than them, shame for thinking my son is better than them, and as I turn my eyes and walk towards my car, I decide that I am going to be a more accepting person...accepting of my son, his disabilities, and my role as the mother of one of those 'special'' kids.