Has never happened. Not here.
I know there are others who have had those moments, when their child realized they were different because of autism, Down Syndrome, missing limbs, skin conditions. But in our case, that has never happened. Maura doesn’t get that she’s different.
Maura thinks she’s just like anyone else. And in so many ways, she is very typical. She likes to shop, likes going to Starbucks, has her favorite shows, knows what she wants to wear and how she wants her hair done. What makes her different is that sometimes, she loves things too much. Like going to the movies. It is the most exciting thing ever….until we take her to the pool. Then that is the most fun ever. I guess another difference in her is she’s not afraid to show emotions. If she’s sad, you know it. If she’s thrilled by something, we all know it.
But different? She doesn’t know that. I’m not sure she gets the concept.
So she greets everyone as a potential friend, certain that they’re going to love the same things she does, or be interested in her Frozen backpack or new shoes. And most people smile and compliment these things, assuring her that yes, they are nice people. I love those people. I love them in a way they will never know, these complete strangers who say “Wow! Look at those new shoes!”
Every so often though, there will be a person who doesn’t get it, doesn’t get that they’re supposed to be friendly, who look at her with that crinkled nose of disdain. Sadly, they tend to be kids closer to her age, that peer group she’s supposed to be included into but have outgrown her years ago. It started in first grade, when her classmates decided to mock her and call her a baby for crying when she was upset. Despite inclusion, some children did not become more sensitive to her differences. Instead, they made fun of her.
That’s part of why I’ve embraced the idea of special schools and classes. Because when Maura started school in Ireland, suddenly, she had a peer group she could relate to. She had kids who wanted to be her friends (including one boy who proclaimed that she was President of the United States, which still makes me smile.) She was invited to all the birthday parties, and had friends interested in the same things she was, things their typically developing peers may have outgrown years before. I remember being at the school for an event, and watching a couple older boys teasing each other, and it hit me just how much normal were in these special kids. They still sought friendships, still could tease each other, still took care of each other when one was nervous, or showed concern when another was upset. They were able to relate to each other, be friends, have that normal teen relationship. It was something special to see. There, they weren’t different, not really. Yes, in a way, it was a bubble. But it was a bubble where these kids were truly included in life, in ways school inclusion never gave us before.
Now Maura’s in a special classroom. There are moments of inclusion, but she’s still around peers that are her speed. She doesn’t really have friends her age, but that’s something I’ve gotten used to. In the meantime, the older kids have their friends all coming through the house, and they have all become Maura’s “friends”. She will see them coming and go “Look! Friends!”. They come into the house and say hi to her, comment on the show she’s watching that she insists on pointing out (we’ve gotten a lot of “OMG, “Lilo and Stitch!”! I loved that movie!” this week.) They let her watch shows with them, are impressed she’s into Doctor Who, let her “play” Settlers of Catan with them – and they will have no idea how eternally grateful I am that they treat her like a normal kid, and how they restore my faith in human beings.
I don’t know if Maura will ever get the concept that she’s “different” – honestly, I don’t think she ever will. In the meantime, she’s showing the world how to treat her and others like her more normally.