Birthday and Christmas always have people wondering what to buy for our son who is blind. Not only does his diagnosis of blindness throw them off, but also his unique characteristics associated with autism. My request this holiday season is that everybody simply give him the gift of equality.
Recently, while attending an event for children who are blind, Eddie received this gift. He was asked to play goalball, a sport specific to blindness, and he was asked to play like everybody else. The organizers didn’t look at him and think, “Will he be able to play?” “Will he want to get down on the floor?” “Will he be motivated to engage with his peers?” They didn’t ask us, or him, any of those questions. They simply told him how to play, where to position himself, and what to do.
In this photo of him playing goalball with his Dad, he looks just like the other kids. You wouldn’t know that he’s developmentally delayed, has low tone, and struggles with language. He just looks like a kid playing goalball and having a good time. That was the gift of equality that the coaches gave to him, and it was a gift that also transferred to us.
I work every day with students who have disabilities and what those coaches did is actually quite rare. For good reason, the nature of special education is individualization, as emphasized through the IEP, or “Individualized Education Program.” However, due to the push for making everything meaningful and appropriate for our son, he hardly ever is treated with the anonymity of simply being “a kid.”
What it means to just be “a kid” is something our daughters get to experience every day and for that reason it isn’t a gift to them. They always want to be special, have better toys than their friends, get to do cooler stuff than each other…and life can be a competition. For Eddie, I have the distinct impression that he just wants to be treated like everybody else. He doesn’t want bigger, better, faster. He just wants the same.
This holiday season, please give Eddie exactly what he wants…equality. When you talk to him, talk to him like he’s an 11-year-old boy. When you play with him, play something boys his age like. Simply stop wondering “Can he do it?” “Will he want to?” “Is he capable of understanding?” You’ll be amazed how much he is like all the other kids, and how much he craves being treated the same. There is a chance he won’t respond like kids his age…but there is a greater chance that he will.
By giving the gift of equality, you may receive a gift yourself. He may share with you a smile or a laugh. He may exceed your expectations or surprise you with humor. Or the gift you receive might be a smile from us, his parents…or the tears you might bring to our eyes. If we’re lucky, next year equality won’t even have to be gifted because it will be as common as it is for most kids. Then, Eddie can equally ask for bigger and better too.