This past Monday (April 10th), I took James in for a speech evaluation. Now, those of you who know me know that I’ve been worried about his speech and language for a while. So this was a big step (and one I was so glad to be taking)!
At his appointment I learned a few things. There are two kinds of kids who need/receive speech therapy: “language kids” who have trouble understanding or communicating and “speech kids” who understand and communicate well, but have trouble making sounds/words. After our speech therapist (we went to Rockcastle Regional Hospital’s speech department and our therapist was AMAZING) played and interacted with James for about an hour, talked to me, and just observed him (she gave him cars to play with, so there was a lot to observe) she told me that while his language was great (advanced, even! Cue this mama’s big head), his speech was, in fact, delayed.
What was my reaction to this? I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t despondent. I just thought, “FINALLY! Finally we’re doing something to help my bright, energetic, intelligent boy form sounds!”
Initially, I didn’t feel compelled to write a blog about this. But then I happened upon a video of the new Sesame Street character, Julia, who has autism. It was amazing to see. And then I read the comments on the video, and I was absolutely horrified. (A lot of the comments were positive and wonderful, but it was the bad ones that really got me going.) People were saying horrible things about the character, about people with autism, and just horrible things in general, and it got me thinking. Why are people reacting so strongly and so negatively to this? It’s a lovely video showcasing a character with autism, showing that she does things a little differently than some of her friends–“She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way”–and showing that that’s just fine.
It’s not secret that people are uncomfortable with other people who are different than them. Whether it’s the other person’s way of interacting with and understanding the world, their gender identity, their skin color, their sexuality, their race, their religion, their abilities, their language, their physicality, their weight, or any other number of things, many people are uncomfortable with people who are different. When I gained weight after James was born, I noticed some people were uncomfortable talking with me and made an extended effort to give me compliments (that it was obvious they didn’t mean) because they were so uncomfortable that I was (relatively) comfortable not being as thin as I was. It didn’t have any relevance to their lives, but my difference made them uncomfortable.
So, is that why people reacted so strongly to that video? And this got me thinking, how are people going to react to my son (who is two and has a much smaller and less clear vocabulary than most other two year olds) when they hear him talk? He’s big, like a three year old. He’s smart, he follows directions (as well as a two-year-old can be expected to), he’s funny, he’s wonderful, but when people hear him talk, they say, “Oh, how old IS he?”
So that’s why I wanted to write this. My son is two, and doesn’t know that sometimes people look at him with pity or curiosity when he doesn’t talk like a a two-year-old “should.” But there are other children, adults, human beings, who also are different, who do realize when these things happen–who realize when people treat them differently, or as if they are somehow less. And it’s this that I feel like we need to be aware of and to fight against these reactions.
In reality, we’re all different. We all have something (or things) that make us stand out, make us unique, make us special, make us who we are. My son is smart. My son is funny. My son is who he is, 100%, and I’m grateful for all of it. I’m grateful for his rate of development, for his individuality, for his energy, his empathy, his fiery temperament. And my hope is that this blog will speak to just one person, and make them think about this if they haven’t before. Julia the muppet does things in a Julia sort of way, while Lindsey the mom and and wife and writer and blogger and human does things in a Lindsey sort of way.
Differences are just that–differences. They don’t make us less. They aren’t bad. And I think the sooner we start to see that, start to engage with that idea and with each other in a more open minded, open hearted way, the happier we will all be.
*If you want to see some really beautiful, wonderful videos, check out this YouTube channel: Special Books by Special Kids. This teacher knows how to celebrate children’s differences!
And, because my blog wouldn’t be my blog with some pictures, here are some pictures of my fiery, sweet, smart, wild little man.