We've created a safe, honest environment in our family in which our "special" needs are special, and yet normal in the context of our home. Sometimes it's been interesting to see how comfortable the kids are with their diagnoses.
Once when Jonah was about 8 years old, he had a friend over. They were sitting on the couch, playing with some toys. Jonah had a couple tics at the time, like blinking and making tiny grunting noises. His friend finally turned to him and asked why he was doing those things, grunting and blinking so much. Jonah exclaimed nonchalantly "It's my tic!" and continued playing.
I watched from the kitchen to see what would happen, if the friend would need more explanation than Jonah had given, how Jonah would handle the situation -- but Jonah's explanation of his tics apparently satisfied his friend and they just continued to play.
I was in awe of Jonah and his ability to be honest and confident in dealing with his friend. I don't think Jonah saw his tics as a big deal, and since he didn't, his friend let it go too and accepted Jonah for who he was at that moment. There are so many times I think we can learn so much from our innocent children.
Another time about a year ago, we attempted having a puppy as a family pet to see how it would go. We were hoping the dog would have a calming effect on the kids, like a therapy dog. Apparently therapy dogs have to be trained, they're not just born that way. Go figure. Long story short, the dog didn't work for our family because of everyone's intense needs. It wasn't the dog's fault though, she was lovely. We found her a wonderful home where she is deeply loved, so it all worked out OK.
The whole family went to pick up the puppy and bring her home for the first time. As I held her on the way home in the front seat and stroked her fuzzy fur, I found a little tick on her neck. I said to Alex, "She already has a tick!" From the far back seat of our van, I heard Ben's little voice pipe up "Really? What's HER tic?"
It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about and that he thought our new dog had a tic disorder like all the rest of the boys in our family! Alex and I laughed so hard. I explained that no, our little puppy didn't have a tic like a twitch, instead she had a tick like a little blood-sucking animal that has to be removed! It was so funny.
This year in fourth grade, Jonah has a classmate who also has Tourette syndrome. Recently Jonah and the boy were chatting. The classmate said he had Tourette's and asked if Jonah knew what that was. Jonah got so excited and said yes! That he had it too! So they compared tics, and talked about their similarities.
Jonah was so excited when he came home from school and told me the story. He was happy to identify with someone else who had tics and happy to have something in common with a classmate, not just all the boys in our family. Now I get a weekly report on what the classmate's tics are compared with Jonah's. Jonah acts out the other boy's tics and then talks about his own tics in comparison. It's a cool thing, at any age, to find a friend who happens to have so many things in common with you!
My boys have shown me that being different is ultimately OK. Everyone is different. And as much as I reinforce this fact and remind them over and over that we should be tolerant of everyone in the world, my kids have really taught me how to walk the walk.
None of them have tremendously visible special needs, so when people do notice that there is something "different" about our family, in the past it sometimes has shocked me for a split second before I react. But my kids don't miss a beat.
They explain what their diagnosis is. They help friends understand what makes them different. And what makes them so very special. If only we were all as accepting and sensitive to others as my kids and their friends are. The world would be an even better place to live.
Carrie Newsom, from Lindenhurst, Ill., uses her social work background to advocate for children with special needs. Find a link to her blog "Joyful Chaos: Loving Four Special Kids" at Lutheran Blogs.
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