One of my very best friends has a son who has special needs. His special needs cannot be seen, much like a heart condition. He is a lovable child with a huge heart. He enjoys a lot of the same things that most kids enjoy. He adores Scooby Doo, singing, dancing, and is learning to ride a bike.
Ryan is 11. He has gorgeous red hair and an infectious smile. Honestly, Ryan’s smile, even from a picture, can make me brighten even when I’m in the depths of despair. He is Amazing. You would be lucky to know him, trust me.
Ryan’s parents are also Amazing. I won’t get into details as to what they deal with on any given day, but parenting Ryan is not easy. There are a million decisions that need to be made every day, piled on top of a million provisions that need to be made. Parenting Ryan is above and beyond the call of average parenting duties.
Ryan has no idea what I’m about to tell you. This is really important. I need your complete attention.
When Ryan and his family go out in public, the differences in Ryan by looking at him are not immediately apparent. Other than the ginger hair, he is a strikingly handsome kid, and when he is walking alongside his mother or quietly looking at items in a store, his differences simply aren’t obvious.
Ryan loves to sing and dance, as I mentioned. Quite often, it makes no difference as to where he is, he will sing, and skip and play, as young children do, and enjoy himself wherever he is. Sometimes that is in a store, or a parking lot, or in line at the checkout. He’s a happy kid, period.
So when your child, who sees Ryan enjoying himself, nudges you to point him out, and you turn to your friend and do the same, his mother is watching you. You can either choose to make this an educational time for your kid and say something about not judging others, or you could point, stare and call Ryan weird. But know this: his mother sees you.
While her heart is breaking at your actions, know that while you’re getting a kick out of making fun of a child with special needs, you are hurting a mother who cannot say anything for fear of calling attention to your abhorrent behavior to her young and innocent son. She wants to protect him from this world of cruelty and people who judge based on looks.
Know that 2, 4, 10 years later, she still will remember your face, your glances, your words. They sting. Believe me, if I had been standing beside my friend that day, I would have discreetly said something to you that would ensure that you would remember my face, my glare and my words. So would your kid. He would hopefully learn that what the 3 of you were doing is very wrong.
You wouldn’t poke fun at a child with Down’s Syndrome, would you? You wouldn’t dare tell a man in a wheelchair that he can’t park in a handicapped spot, would you? Not all conditions are visible. Heart conditions, Tourette’s, mental illness, anxiety disorders, alcoholism, blood disorders, allergies…to name a few.
So next time you’re out and about and you see anyone, of any age, who is different than you, remember Ryan. Remember Ryan’s mother. Remember not to break her heart. She sees you.