One Saturday morning, Nate and I stood in the crowded line of my local department store, waiting patiently to pay for our overflowing shopping cart. As we waited, I thumbed through a cooking magazine looking at recipes, as Nate leaned against the shopping cart, doing his usual, arm waving and flapping, while his voice went from laughing, to a high pitched scream, and then to a low giggle.
As we waited, a mother with a little girl sitting in the front of the shopping cart, pulled in back of us. I immediately noticed the little girl, staring at Nate. I could tell by her face that she was confused, as she wondered why this boy was flapping and waving his arms and making loud noises in the store. I smiled at the mother and then at the little girl, who removed her eyes from Nate. She then looked at me and asked…. “What is wrong with him?”
The girl’s mother looked at me, shocked and embarrassed at her daughter’s question. I immediately told her that it was okay and that the question was all right. I then asked if she wouldn’t mind if I answered it. She shook her head yes, as I proceeded to explain in 5 year-old/kid-friendly manner about my child.
“This is Nate and I am his Mommy.” I began. “Nate does not see or hear. He is deaf and blind.” I explained.
The little girl then looked back at Nate, examining him with her eyes to help her understand and process what I just said.
“Sometimes Nate likes to flap his arms and his hands and make loud noises.” I continued.
“But, there is nothing wrong with Nate. This is who he is and I love him.” I concluded.
The little girl seemed to accept my answer as a smile graced her face and her mother thanked me. Soon the line began moving, and I paid for my items, and walked out of the checkout line, not before the mother and daughter waved goodbye to us.
Over the years I have had this conversation about Nate, as people have looked at my son, watched him move his arms and body and make loud noises. Of course I have tweaked my lessons to make them age-appropriate and friendly, depending on the person whom I was speaking to.
And during this time, I have become more comfortable and transparent with having that talk.
I have learned that it is my purpose to educate people. This world needs to know about children and adults with special needs. Yes, textbooks and the Internet are great resources to learn, but no book or website could have told that little girl that there was nothing wrong with my child and that I loved him.
I need to be the one to educate, because nothing compares to the sharing of my mind, my heart, and my experience of raising a child with special needs.