A few weeks ago, a parent conference provided me with an epiphany about life, love and disabilities. It was a paradoxical lesson never to be forgotten but one to be shared and celebrated with others who often struggle with the challenges of raising a child with special needs in a big scary world. The conference began like most others; the parents were given a platform to provide the teachers with a little background on their child, discuss challenges and assist the school with the best ways to “deal” with him.
Listening intently, I sat idly by while the parents gave a brief medical explanation of the child’s exceptionalities, they praised the school for the remarkable progress over the years and then they began a brief dissertation which unsettled my soul and spirit. Like most parents, these wonderful people began apologizing to the team for their son’s characteristics which, I will agree, are not age appropriate by society’s standards. But, maybe they should be.
This young man is a remarkable human being whose parents spent several minutes apologizing for his inability to see anything but the genuine good in others. Combine that with his natural desire to give hugs to everyone he encounters, and to some, you have a need for an IEP, a 504 plan or a behavior modification plan.
I have never done it before, but I interrupted the parents; I could not listen anymore as these wonderful people were pouring out their heart trying to explain their attempts to “change” their son to fit the world’s idea of normal. If this student’s disability caused him to only see the good in others and to go around showering people with hugs of love and grace, then I wish that we all had the ability that folks with autism, Down’s Syndrome, ADHD, ADD, SLD or some other acronym that made us good, and kind and loving like my student. I apologized to everyone at the conference for my interruption, my philosophical awakening…but I didn’t really mean it, and I would do it again if I had the chance.
I asked the parents to do me one favor…don’t try so hard to change my student. I don’t think it is him that has the disability. I think it is the rest of us. Wouldn’t it be a much better world if we all only saw the good in each other and gave hugs with reckless abandon? That isn’t a disability…but more of a “different ability”. Differently abled to see the good in everyone is never a bad thing.
Elaine Glenn has been a teacher for over 20 years, teaching English before deciding to answer her true calling in Special Education three years ago. She is married to Jim Glenn, an Engineering and Technology teacher, and they have one son, Patrick, who is a junior in college at Georgia Southern University. In her spare time, Elaine enjoys boating, hiking and spending time with her family and friends. She enjoys writing and finds that her students never fail to provide her with valuable life lessons that make her a better person and the world around her a more peaceful place to learn and grow.