Recently, as I sat waiting for my husband, I overheard a conversation between two ladies. They were discussing their “handicapped” child who was now an adult. Woven into the conversation was all the pain of raising a child in a world that does not understand or make a lot of space for children with special needs. The mother talked about how difficult her life had been, trying to keep the balance between preparing her child and protecting him from the world. She talked about how she had to keep him from taking on activities he was sure to fail in. As the conversation progressed a few things became obvious.
First of all the “handicap” was Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a grandson with Asperger’s and let me assure you, I am sometimes left to consider that rather than being a “handicap,” it may be a gift that many of us humans could use a little more of. I love how he looks at life and deals with it. It is a refreshing reminder to me that we have bought into a narrow box that guides our thinking and experiences of life. I am reminded that how we see and do things does not have to be the one limited way we seem to have all agreed upon. My grandson challenges me to explain and defend why things are they way they are but often leaves me asking myself questions like “why?” and “why not?” Sometimes different is not only good, it is healthy and it can be wonderful and necessary. But more importantly, those adults I have met, who have Asperger’s, are seldom what I would call “handicapped.” Many are gifted and some are leading their chosen field.
Second of all, I am not sure how much the mother was protecting her child, as much as she was protecting herself from being embarrassed. I marvel at my daughter and her approach to her child. I was also privileged to know another woman who had two sons and she had much the same philosophy. These women allow their children to participate in whatever they want to. When a parent does not measure experiences in terms of success but rather as wonderful opportunities for experience, children are free to do the same. My grandson tries something and at the end of the year/season, he knows whether it is something he wants to pursue. If it is, he signs on for the next year/season/opportunity. If it is not, he moves on and tries something else. Life is an invitation for him and he will not go through life with a fence around him to protect him in a way that leaves him feeling that there really is something wrong with him. I actually wondered if this “son” of the mother, who was loudly discussing her situation with her friend, was not a little resentful of his mother’s protection that put him on the permanent side line of life.
Of course, a single overheard conversation, does not make me an expert on this woman’s life or her experience with her son and Asperger’s. The point of this is not to say the woman is a terrible mother. We all do the best we can with what we have and know at the time. I also knew, from the conversation that day, that this woman deeply loved her son. The point of this is to make us aware of how we can better help those around us with “disabilities” and maybe more importantly, how they can help us.
The woman went on to say how she was pressuring her son not to have any children, because it would be “a crying shame” to bring “another child like him” into the world.
I know I gasped out loud.
I am not sure any of us can look at another’s life and presume that it is somehow of lesser value or quality simply because it does not mirror our own idea of what happiness is. That a mother would speak those words about their child wounds my heart. I cannot imagine what it does to her son.
I hope my grandson grows up to marry and have children. I hope those children realize how lucky they are to have father like him. He has such a good heart. He is brilliant in so many ways. He is gentle and kind. I hope I never hear anyone talk about him as if he is somehow “less than” any other child because I would probably punch that person.
I looked at the mom and realized it was a different time when she raised her son and that we have plenty more understanding now than was available to her. What the whole experience did for me, was remind me that I need to make sure I speak up around my friend and my daughter. I need to tell them what an amazing job I think they are doing. I need to make sure the children hear me say how wonderful I think they are. I need for you to hear me say that having a grandson with Asperger’s has been a gift. I am sorry that this woman lacked support in her life to tell her it was ok, that she was ok as a mom, and he was ok as her son. No-one gets through this life in a vacuum and it is up to all of us to be more aware of one another and to support each other through the trials we all face.