by Linda Burns~ Although it may be difficult for many to understand, I want to attempt to explain what being a special needs parent has taught me. While driving to my deposition the other morning, totally on autopilot, I found myself headed towards the Ben Franklin Bridge when I really should have been headed towards the Commodore Barry Bridge because, lo and behold, the deposition venue that day was Delaware and not Pennsylvania…ahhhhh!!! Well, anyone who knows me could tell you that even with this slight “change of course” I still made it to Delaware with time for tea before the attorneys began to filter in.
While chuckling to myself in the car, listening to my jazz the entire way, I thought…you know, my life is anything but ordinary…from the profession I have chosen to my family dynamics to my personal relationships…and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There are very few weeks where I am at the same law firm twice, or maybe even the same state twice, as the case has been lately. I am with a different set of lawyers each day, as well as a new and different case with a new set of facts and lineup of witnesses.
I was reflecting on how my life has brought to me a certain wisdom, for which I am grateful. I like where I am and who I am and the family, friends and business associates I’m surrounded by.
The next morning I found myself at my son’s former middle school (and luckily I found my way there with no difficulty!!!) I had been asked to come in to talk to a few classes since it was World Autism Day. This would be the first talk that I would be giving to children. The kids and I have spoken to students at Drexel since we’ve written our book, but not students at the middle-school age. I pondered how different it would be addressing this audience versus college students, parents or paraprofessionals, which I felt comfortable with.
To begin my day, I was welcomed by each class with enthusiasm and warmth. I just about touched upon the topic of autism, how it is to have a son with autism and then was guided to open the floor to questions because they were jumping out of their skin. Well, I could have stayed for days! These children were eager to ask whatever was on their mind…be it, whether or not my son will be able to be a father one day; does he ever talk about what it was like when he was younger; does he still have meltdowns. They had previously read a book having to deal with a child’s struggle with sensory and learning, and his inability to form friends. They pulled examples from the book, as well as firing away real-life concerns that they had. But the bottom line was, they were so eager to learn about autism. They were genuinely concerned about learning how to help the students that they are in class with every day or on the ball-field with once a week or in dance class with on Saturdays.
I left the middle school that day with a sense of hope. Middle school was very, very difficult for my son. I feel that something happens to 5th graders over the summer leading to 6th grade. The students who were once caring and understanding and patient have now discovered the opposite sex and are feeling that they need to “fit in.” Fitting in with the cool crowd and being a friend to a child with special needs just wasn’t a good fit for most. But this particular day, I sensed that in this 10-year span, much of the student population has progressed to a level of acceptance…a level of acceptance that I only hope adults will get to one day soon.
The children sent me away with something that day…I felt encouraged that the awareness and acceptance of differences and the fostering of understanding and patience amongst children has taken a huge leap in the last ten years. I hope and pray that I never stop learning…I know that my son continues to teach me much about life every day…and for that, yes, I am again thankful…I am grateful that I can be perfectly happy with the exceptionally ordinary in my life!