When A Child Speaks Up
by Sarena James
Before a week ago, I could think of nothing that a five-year old could say to make me cry; but she said something about my son, and I cried.
Since the beginning of his schooling, age three, Grant has been in a special needs classroom. During summer months, we find speech and language camps and social camps offered to children on the spectrum. They give opportunities for inclusion, so that he can interact with his typically developing peers. In the neighborhood, in churches, in wide open parks, in all of these areas I have watched Grant try to tunnel through his complicated maze of being social. He is aware of children, but unaware of how to bring them into his space; and more certainly, how to get into theirs.
Hurtfully, I’ve watched him push or shout to play, and then watched those children run off to their parents in tears or blank stares, not knowing what to think of the strangeness of it all. Occasionally, a child will ask me why Grant likes to run so much, or why he speaks one word, maybe two. I explain as simply as I can that the world has many differences. A tree is not a shoe. A flower will never be cotton candy. A lady bug has spots, and so do Dalmatians, but still they are different. There are differences all around us and we should learn more about them and offer respect. I’m never quite sure that my answers satisfy their young minds, but saying nothing only promotes ignorance.
A few days ago, a mother asked to speak with me concerning something remarkable that happened in her daughter’s school day. There was noticeable excitement and mommy-pride in her voice and I listened for the story behind it. Her daughter and my son attend the same school. She is in a regular classroom, the one my son is being mainstreamed for. The teacher had forgotten to tell the class beforehand that there was a child with special needs coming and in the event that his behavior is alarming, do not make fun of him or be scared of him. Enter Grant with his I’m-really-not-having-a-good-day-self. Within a few minutes he has a meltdown and starts screaming. When Grant and his teacher left the classroom, the teacher began to offer an explanation but stopped short when a little girl, poised and confident, raised her hand and said,
“He has special needs.
It means he’s different.
But, he can still be our friend.”
Amazing how the littlest of people, children, speak truth without inhibition. Sometimes that truth is painful and awkward, but sometimes it heals. In this case, the truth spoken in three sentences gives me new courage and added strength to more purposely talk to an audience of little ears with very big hearts. A beautiful thing happens when you’re willing to be honest with children: fear begins to fade and friendships do flourish…