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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I'm high-fiving you in my head

Today while Raya's darling respite provider was here with her, I took Kaida to the library so that I could study in relative peace and Kaida could pull books off the shelves to her little heart's content and "read" them. I managed to find an adult-sized chair in the kids' section and we commandeered a table that we quickly covered with the DVDs we planned on checking out, a stack of children's books, my giant textbook, 2 piles of notecards, a stack of note pages, a notebook, and Donny's super rad sports car folder, circa 1992.
We sat at the table for about 20 minutes and during that time, I wondered why the children's section was virtually empty. Then story time ended and that answered that question. We were sitting in direct view of the shelves of children's DVDs, so I could clearly see everyone that walked by to pick out movies. Most of them were mothers with young toddlers, so when a tall teenage boy and his dad & brother started perusing the selection, I couldn't help but notice them. At first glance, it looked like the boy was wearing a pair of those big headphones that are all the rage right now but I quickly realized that they were not headphones for listening to music. They were noise-canceling earphones.

As soon as I realized that, I started to notice other characteristics similar to those of some of the kids we see at the therapy clinic Raya goes to and guessed that this boy probably has autism. I couldn't help but watch him as he silently ran his fingers over the DVD cases on the shelves, touching every single one. He walked with a bit of a spring in his step, his heels never really resting on the floor. His father had a thick, athletic build but the boy was very thin, perhaps because of sensory issues that make eating difficult. (I can only guess...) He made a few sounds and used a lot of hand gestures, but never actually spoke.

A couple of times, he seemed to get distracted. He turned away from the DVD shelves and started to walk away. Each time, his dad gently reached out and held onto his arm and spoke softly to him as he guided him back to the shelves. The boy (who looked to be about 14 or 15) was quiet, calm, and happy as he selected 3 cartoon DVDs to check out and take home with him. His dad reminded him that he could only pick two and held out the 3 DVDs the boy had chosen. I couldn't hear what he said to his son, but without speaking, the boy pointed to one of the DVDs and he put it back on the shelf. They walked out of the children's section and towards the check-out station, but stopped by the giant dollhouse in the glass case so the boy could look at it first.

Once or twice during the time they were there, the dad walked by and we made eye contact. I smiled and nodded, hoping that he could somehow see that I was watching in admiration rather than staring in judgement. I wanted him to know that I could see the results of what has likely been a lifetime of hard work on their part. From the boy's calm, content demeanor, to the way they communicated without speaking, to the gentle and patient way that the dad kept the son focused on what he was doing. It was awesome. If I could have high-fived them both, I would have but I couldn't, so I just high-fived them in my head.

I find myself doing that a lot now. Being the parent of a child with special needs has changed the way I look at other kids and parents. It is nearly unbelievable how hard some children have to work just to be able to function on a daily basis (like so many of the kids we see at therapy). I would venture to guess that an older child who, like the young man we saw today, still needs to wear noise-canceling earphones in order to be comfortable in a public place like a library, has overcome unimaginable obstacles just to get to that point. I was proud of him. I don't know him and will probably never see him again, but I was proud of him and, I suppose, proud of his parents too. They have obviously worked very hard with him.

When you're out in public and you see someone with special needs, no matter what they're doing, whether they're behaving beautifully or not, know that the people who take care of them are working very hard every single day. Recognize that no matter how the person is behaving, they have likely worked very hard to overcome obstacles just to get to that point and will continue to work hard every single day. High-five them for it, even if you're just high-fiving them in your head. They deserve it. To the dad I saw today at the library, keep up the good work. You are obviously doing a great job with your son. {*high five*}

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