Embracing difference

This week I have the opportunity to let Noah do something very cool with his school. It’s not an activity the others in his class will get to do. It’s down to the innovation of one teacher in the school who would like to take a group of kids on an outing. They are all kids who have extra needs and they will all benefit from the experience, interactions and physical exercise they will get on the trip. To top all that, Noah will love it. He will feel special, he will love going on the bus, he will love the activities and he will come home smiling from ear to ear!!

But of course there’s a catch and it’s all of my own making. I can’t help myself from drifting to the thought that events like this highlight him as being different to the other kids. Nobody else in his class is going, they will be back in school learning words, reading, doing maths and singing songs. Surely taking Noah out will highlight that he is not the same and the other kids will wonder why he is going?

This is what we do. Parents of children with special needs become very sensitive to the idea of normal, of being like everybody else. From the moment Noah was born, the word integration was being thrown out there. The importance of getting involved in community, local organisations, integrating into mainstream school. We work so hard from the get go on learning to do “normal” things. It starts with crawling, sitting, walking, talking, eating. Learning to go to the toilet, putting on your own coat. It is endless. Every small milestone seeming like a project. So it’s not really that surprising that our radar for normality is so switched on.

I wish I had known earlier that so many of these milestones do not need to be a project. I often question whether Noah would have done it all anyway in his own time without my obsession and interference. I often regret that I didn’t relax more in those early days and just enjoy the pace albeit slower then I might have liked!

Maybe it is not just parents of kids with special needs that are so focused on normality. Maybe your child has some odd quirks, likes to sing out loud, adores playing with toys not typical for their age or gender, maybe your child is an introvert, doesn’t like the schoolyard or sports activities. Do you find yourself from time to time wishing that your child would just fit in? Rejoicing when they get through an activity just being like everybody else?

It’s almost 7 years now since Noah was born and I find myself questioning more and more why we do this to ourselves and to our children. The world is a dark enough place to live in, why can’t we enjoy and appreciate the colour that our kids bring to it whatever their quirks?

Noah is not the same as the other kids in his class. He is full of funny habits. He speaks his own language, he oozes love and sensitivity with a touch of vulnerable. He learns differently to the other kids. He likes to play different games and works off different books, but this does not make him weaker or less worthy then anybody else. On the contrary, he is teaching everybody that different is strong, interesting and not something to be feared. He is showing that difference can be embraced and has its place in our everyday world. He is teaching the kids around him to be more accepting of diversity, to be caring and to see that people come in all shapes and sizes.

We often underestimate the other kids. They know he is different but they love and respect him for who he is. I admit playdates can be hard, the others might not always know how to play with him but Noah is OK with that. The feeling in the pit of my stomach when he is treated anyway differently is based on my own preconceptions of how it should be, not his.

As we approach Christmas, there are many families out there who find this time so difficult. There are parents of children with significant needs, children who are sick or children who won’t get what they want because families are under serious financial strain. Maybe you are a parent feeling under pressure to buy the latest X Box, technological gadget or Christmas present of the moment. Maybe you don’t agree with it or can’t afford it but you want your kids to be like all the others. We all find ourselves under pressure to conform in whatever form it takes but I question all of it. How amazing would the world be if we could all be more comfortable just being who we are?

We are so lucky that the biggest challenge we have had to deal with is tackling what Down Syndrome throws at us. Noah has brought us significantly more joy, love and laughter then he has challenges. He will go on his cool outing tomorrow, he will embrace the fact that he gets to go and others don’t. I will stand proudly to collect him off the bus and I will cuddle his smiling delighted face when he gets off it.

I will allow him to be a little different, a whole lot special.

Why on earth would I want this amazing little boy to be just like everybody else?

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