Special Needs & Spectrum Awareness
We hear people mentioning “disabilities” and “special needs” all the time, but how many of us really know what these labels are all about? For those of us who love a differently-abled individual, we know that they don’t fit into a set mold and they have their own gifts and challenges that make them unique. I am blessed to have several gifted individuals in my life. At least three of my nephews and more recently (diagnosed), my husband.
Often times we think of a person with special needs as looking different or acting strange, but there are things about these individuals that are more “normal” than the rest of us will ever know. An increased level of compassion that would put most of us to shame is just one of the gifts that so many with cognitive disorders possess. Unfortunately, this can leave them vulnerable to those who would look to take advantage of such kindness. My husband has dealt with an undiagnosed disability for as long as he can remember. He was beaten and tied to chairs by teachers in school, ridiculed by his closest family and friends who called him estupido or flojo, and physically and emotionally battered throughout much of his life. It wasn’t until recently (with a lot of nudging) that he finally decided to seek a diagnosis. At the age of 33, my husband finally had an answer. He wasn’t “stupid”, “lazy” or “slow”…he was DYSLEXIC. But, what does that mean?
Every person is different and this applies to those with “dis”abilities just as much as it does to anyone else. My husband is dyslexic, but he doesn’t read letters backwards. Instead he sees them out of order, has trouble reading analog clocks and a shortened attention span. The specifics of his unique traits are too numerous to mention here, but the point is that individuals with the same disability label don’t always have the same quirks. While a label does help in some ways to guide us through the process and help us point to a cause, it can also paint individuals into a corner that prevents others from seeing their full potential. We can sometimes get so caught up in what individuals are “un”able to do, that we forget all the truly amazing things that they are capable of.
We found inspiration in a very special author while on our journey towards diagnosis. Victor Villaseñor is a Chicano (Mexican American) author with dyslexia who endured criticism and abuse for both his disability and his heritage. He lived life believing that Mexicans were inferior and that his poor grades in school were a result of his unwillingness or inability to learn. In his own journey of self-discovery, he came to realize that all of these societal labels were untruths and that he could do anything through believing in himself.
Like Villaseñor, my husband grew up not knowing his worth, but it’s important to realize that having support…whether it be your parents, spouse, children, friends or teachers…can give you the strength to believe in yourself. It’s so important that they have an ally who sees them for more than their label. For all those who LOVE an amazingly different individual…know that your support and love means everything…and you are also amazing!