Ever since my son was diagnosed with Autism, we’ve been told by several support groups, therapists and service providers how special our son is and how proud we should be. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I’m fortunate to have a child who has almost no self or social awareness, no speech and no cognition. It seemed consolatory, like the -“they’re in a better place” cliche. How is that supposed to make me feel better? How does a disabling condition like autism make someone special ?
When I see kids on the playground invite Vedant to a game of tag while he’s oblivious of their very presence, I wonder what makes him special. When I see him cry in pain or discomfort, struggling to tell us what’s going on and not being able to, I want to cry out loud and ask what makes this helplessness special?
Occasionally, when I walk past a classroom full of bustling, busy kids talking about superheroes, the latest mobile game, forgotten homework or a book they read while I take Vedant to a room in the corner that’s for kid’s with special needs, I ruminate over what makes the “almost devoid of the infectious kid’s energy” corner so special.
When I watch kids shrieking with delight the moment they enter a toy store and then see Vedant wandering off to a quiet spot, stimming on his hand, or on helicopter blades, not interested in the shelf full of toys around him, I fail to appreciate the exceptional nature of the situation. Anytime I hear kids raving about a vacation they are going to or their upcoming birthday party, I think about Vedant. He’s completely engrossed in his bubble, unaffected by his upcoming birthday or a vacation and I wonder how special of a picture that paints. I see kids going to piano recitals, soccer and baseball practice, playdates, sleep overs, scouts and camps and I think about the euphemistic expression of “special” that Vedant has been tagged with.
I really used to get negatively affected when someone called him special. It was as if his faultline was showing and someone was just pointing it out politely. I still find “special needs” not the fittest term for him. He is special to me – very special – but not the way the world labels him special.
He’s special because he fills my heart with warmth when he hugs me (he comes for deep pressure that he seeks, but I call it his attempt to recharge his batteries by getting a refill of love). He’s amazing because I know that he will probably never be touched by malice, hatred, envy or any other negative feelings – he will always be as pure as a child.
He’s remarkable because in spite of his limitations he seems to navigate the world around him with such aplomb and confidence. He’s incredible because of how much unconditional love he has in him. He is very special but in a very different way, a very personal way, not in the “special “ way he is perceived to be.
I want the world to call him special not to categorize him but to appreciate him, acknowledge his courage in his limitations, applaud his personality that is so alluring, encourage him to fight the challenges he is dealing with every single moment.
Rather than staring at him, I urge the world to look into his eyes and tell him he’s accepted the way he is and appreciate him for the extraordinary situation that he’s in. Instead of flagging him as special, make him feel special by making him feel he’s one of us.
Let’s hold his hand and let him lead the way on his very special journey.