Today’s message: when someone wants to tell their story, let’s listen. It’s there even if we never get the chance to hear it so first, please be kind.
Here are two powerful stories from two young men who each shared a story with their classmates. They’ve both faced challenges, although their diagnoses are about as different as they could be.
Next, read about an unforgettable young man with Treacher Collins Syndrome and read his letter to new classmates, here. And if you’re interested in learning more, September 2014 is Craniofacial Acceptance Month.
Everyone has a story. Everyone’s story matters.
So we have this in common! We are all human beings and we all have our own stories. Do others know your story? Is there more to your story than others know? Children of all ages keep teaching me the answer is usually yes, there is more. What I’m showing you now isn’t all I’m capable of. What I’m telling you isn’t all I have to say. What I need to learn is bigger than your goal for me this year. I want to be able to do more than what I can ask for today.
“I’m invisible,” the tall lanky adolescent said out of nowhere. We were going for ice cream with his mom after peer interaction group that week. And this was something new. I glanced at his mother. She was intently watching her son, ready to comfort him or to try, or to suggest a strategy. We had worked on social interaction skills before, building on his skills little by little over several years. He had mastered learning to approach others to start a conversation, and learned to “read” their social cues as their complex nonverbal behavior telegraphed their boredom at an old, familiar topic. He learned to say “good game” instead of punching winning play partners. He had used these skills like a pro today. Had something gone wrong that neither adult had observed?
We didn’t know. Carefully, his mother said “I see you, champ! Your friends did too- you did a great job. Especially when you celebrated with them after the game today.”
“They’re not my friends. They are my peers. I don’t want peers! I want to date GIRLS!” His voice grew louder and sounded pained as he broke into a run toward the family’s driveway. His mother stopped instantly on the sidewalk and sank onto a bench nearby. She cried softly. “When he was first diagnosed, I thought he would never be able to talk. Now he talks circles around all of us, in every topic I can think of– but never in a million years considered that he might one day think about dating.”
His mom is not alone.
Sometimes our diagnosis, or a physical difference, makes us seem invisible to others.
Sometimes our diagnosis leads others to focus so much on one aspect of our whole self, that they forget about the other parts of a person. For instance, although meaningful relationships are important for EVERYONE, sometimes we forget they would be just as important for someone with Autism.
Diagnoses are sometimes used to label physical differences. For example, I know a great kid who was born with a craniofacial structure that’s really different than most. He’s diagnosed with Treacher Collins Syndrome, but his diagnosis has nothing to do with his ability to be a great friend or do well in school!
Although everyone has amazing potential, their potential—and their story—is often hidden. Not everyone gets a chance to share their story. When they DO get a chance, it might already be too late! And without hearing the story, sometimes people react to a difference. When we react too quickly, we might judge others, or make judgments about what others can do before we even get a chance to hear their story.
First, let’s be kind.