We are the Change
I was chatting with my older cousin this morning. He lives in Bangalore, and is a really nice person. It had been too long since we talked, and we enjoyed our video chat tremendously.
My cousin has always been a feeling and empathetic guy, and he told me that in his mind, I have been through a lot and changed a great deal in a good way, and that I was an inspiring special needs parent. What a kind thing to say.
In a way, heck yeah! Let's pat ourselves on the collective backs, my fellow special needs moms and dads!! We deserve some well meant encouragement and support, don't we? And it doesn't come every day, so let's accept it humbly, especially when it comes from people whom we love and whose opinions we value.
But soon, the self-congratulation wore off, and I said to my cousin, "I really don't think I am that different from anyone. We were all raised the same, and we saw our parents doing whatever it took to be there for us. Really, any one of us would have found this strength because this is just what you do when a child is depending on you, especially one so vulnerable as a special needs child."
I believe in us. Our collective society. I think we all have what it takes. As parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives, friends, doctors, lawmakers, teachers--we all have it in us to stand by the special needs children in our lives. And it's not just because the children are counting on us. It's because they are the source of that inspiration that we feel--to try harder, reach out more, and to speak and act with more sincerity.
Our whole society has a responsibility to the special needs community. We as family and friends and specialists just happen to be a bit more on the front lines, that's all. But we need our community to have an open mind too, so that we don't end up living in a vacuum with our children, and feeling helpless about their futures after we are gone. Some of our kids may not be able to live independently when they are adults, and we need a society that will treat them with respect and empathy.
That kind of respect starts at the top, with laws that protect our kids, and filters down to training people so that they understand how to work with people who are different. And it extends to social interactions--being able to take our kids out in public without being stared at or shunned; and people being willing to include our kids in birthday parties, religious functions, games, and all aspects of community life. And very crucially, it is needed when we start to help our kids plan for a hopeful future.
All over the world, people use the idea of 'being the change that we want to see in the world' to inspire their communities to participate in acts of betterment. That idea came from our very own Gandhiji. So any change we want to see in how our special needs kids are treated has to start with us. We are the role models for our society. Since my son was diagnosed, I have met many people who have made it their life's work to make things better for our kids in all areas of life. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle, but they don't give up.
It all seems like too much sometimes. Too much work. Too much expectation. Too much worry. But the day our kids were born, we were signed up for this. And we cannot help but do right by them. And we have to give more than we think we have, because others will look at our energy and our passion, and they will want to be part of that spirit.
If no one has said it to you today, hear it from me: You are a good parent. And your child is a beautiful gift to the world. And we can do this.