Making A Difference Using our Talents and Gifts

Columnist Lynn Nankervis works to change peoples' perceptions of special needs children through her writing.

Sometimes I sit down at my computer to write and the words just flow like water. My fingers fly effortlessly across the keyboard as my thoughts are given form.

But it doesn't always happen that way. Sometimes, it's arduous and forced, and I wince at the words that appear before me on the monitor. Sometimes I’m overly critical and hesitant to hit the publish button.  

Sometimes the words come easy because I am impassioned by an occurrence or situation, and other times I am more reflective and contemplative and the words are slower to conceive.

That’s how it is with creativity and passion. Sometimes photographers take blurry photos. Sometimes football players fumble the ball. Sometimes doctors misdiagnose. Sometimes singers hit a bad note.

I pursue my passion because it’s important to me, because somewhere deep inside it hits a nerve and it ignites me and fuels me and makes me yearn to grow and develop more creatively.

because I live with it every day, and I am motivated to change how the world views people with autism. It is a big part of my life and I want to empathize with those under the autism umbrella and enlighten those outside of it.

That brings me to something that happened this week.

While having work done on our house we have relocated to a hotel for a couple weeks, which is akin to nothing short of torture. Think seven people in a hotel room and you’ll understand what I mean!

As the need arises to free ourselves from the confines of a cramped room, we spend time in the large lobby where the kids can move around a bit more.

A young boy, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, is often in the lobby too, probably because his mother, too, needs space for him to stretch his legs.

I have caught him running back and forth with a noticeably odd gait, guttural, quirky noises emitting from deep in his throat. From the first moment I saw him I sensed he was a child with autism. A couple days ago I finally found an opportunity to approach his mother, who eyed me suspiciously at first, probably weary from former accusations of “out-of-control kid” and “what he needs is a good spanking.” We spoke for a few minutes and she confirmed that her son is indeed autistic, and we shared a couple of stories and laughed over the similarities in our boys.

We have caught glimpses of each other here and there throughout our days in the hotel, and yesterday morning we waved hello across the crowded dining area over breakfast, and I smiled at her son who was doing his daily jaunt around the room, flapping his arms and kicking his feet up high.

As I took another bite of undercooked scrambled eggs (but I'm not complaining because, hey, it's a hot breakfast that I didn't have to cook!), I overheard an older woman at the table next to me announce, “I’m going to have to speak to the manager about that child. I’m tired of him running through the lobby.”

Immediately, without even thinking about it, I leaned over and politely said, “Is he really disturbing you or are you just annoyed because you think his mother isn’t controlling him?”

I sucked my breath in quickly because the words flew out of my mouth so fast I wondered if I was actually giving voice to them. I could have sworn I was just thinking them, but no, the woman was staring at me with contempt for eavesdropping on her conversation. She eyed me up and down before responding.

“I’m concerned he’s going to run into someone and hurt them. He could knock someone down.”

She had a valid reason for being troubled and I replied, “I completely understand your concern but I think that you should know that he is a child with autism and not, as you might think, a misbehaving child.”

I then explained that many people assume autistic children are just out-of-control, naughty kids who have not been taught right from wrong. I introduced her to my own Matthew, who greeted her kindly.

Somewhat surprisingly, she listened to me and admitted she didn’t know some of the details of autism. She even thanked me for sharing the information with her.

Before special needs rocked my own world, I probably never would have spoken up in defense. I would have looked the other way, pretended I didn’t hear, pulled out a book and feigned disinterest. Why did it take my own world being turned upside down to make me stand up for what’s right?

The answer is easy. Every day I look into the soulful eyes of my own special needs child, a boy who I want to live in a world that accepts autism and all other special needs with comprehension and compassion.

As his mother, I want to do what I need to do, which is to speak courageously and without intimidation about stereotyping. I want to open hearts and minds to accept my son and all others like him.

Sometimes I am disappointed in myself that it took having my own special needs child, having a personal connection with my own child, to make me look deeply into the eyes of other special needs children.

But the reality is that so much of what we learn in life goes back to connections with others, to feelings and sensations and knowing someone who knows someone that has had an experience and shared it with others. Sometimes we have to have a personal connection to really connect.

I seek opportunity to change peoples’ perceptions of special needs. It’s not always easy, but I have learned that when I choose to share my experiences, when I choose openness, I’m almost always pleasantly surprised by, and rewarded for, the outcome.

I choose to share my experiences through writing as well. I take the gifts I have been given and I work with them. I write my column and I talk to strangers and I smile a lot and I feel blessed every second I am able to make a difference.


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