I have always been someone who doesn’t like to be too far out of my comfort zone. You know, those moments when you aren’t sure what to say or do, and then your heart starts racing, and then you get that uncomfortable feeling in your body?
Well, I had one of those moments a few years ago. I met a friend’s brother who had Down Syndrome. I had never been around anyone with special needs before, and didn’t know what to say to him. Instead of talking directly to him, I said to his sister, “How old is he?” She responded, “You can ask him yourself; he will answer you.” Imagine my shock and embarrassment. I didn’t even know how to begin a discussion.
After that meeting, I decided I wanted to try to become familiar with some of the conditions that people with special needs have. I began working as a special needs paraprofessional at an elementary school in Nebraska. I was blessed to work with a young boy in a wheelchair. He made me laugh and smile numerous times a day. Then one day, another boy caught my interest. He worked with another para and had Autism. At times, I would just sit and watch this little boy. I wanted to know more and more about him. I watched his mannerisms and how he spoke. Autism is almost like a puzzle; each person has a different variation and there is always something new to learn.
A year later, I transferred schools and began working at a Junior High (where I currently work). I was assigned to a student with Autism. I felt blessed to be given the opportunity to help another student with his learning. I went to work each day with a renewed love for this profession.
Another year, a particular young lady in the 8th grade stole my heart. She would make me laugh and smile numerous times a day. When she left our school to go to the 9th grade, I cried.
As time has gone on, I have become more familiar with a variety of special needs conditions. I feel like I have a better understanding of the other side of the picture as well. What I mean by that is, I see what families go through day-to-day having a child with different needs.
Parents already give so much of their time to their children. Imagine having a child with more in-depth needs than they expected. The love, guidance and patience that some parents have is astounding to me. God has truly given them a gift of love and grace.
When I walk down the street now or even into a crowded room, I seek out special needs children. I say hello, even if I know they won’t be able to respond. They are just like anyone else; they can hear and they have emotions too!
If you are at all like I was, the next time you are at a store and see someone who might be a little “different,” say hello to them! You may be surprised at how happy you make them!
God has made each of us so differently yet all the same, with compassion and love in our hearts. It’s so easy for us to cave in to those feelings of inadequacy. Step out of your comfort zone and make someone smile!!
With a smile on my face and ready to face the new school year,