It was just a regular day at the county library. I sat on a couch, in the children’s corner, waiting for my kids to select the books that they would like to take home. I probably was too involved in observing a ten-month old attempting to stand on his own, which would explain why I completely missed the thirteen-year-old boy who sat down on a couch next to me.
“Excuse me?” The voice startled me. “Were your children sitting on this couch?”
I was totally thrown by this question. “No, none of my kids were sitting on the couch.” I smiled.
“Are you absolutely sure that none of your kids were sitting here before me?”
I stopped to think for a minute, how to address this child’s concern about my children.
“I just wanted to make sure that your kids were not sitting here before me.”
It would not be a lie to state that I was beginning to get a bit uncomfortable with this line of questioning. Something inside me cautioned me that this was not a regular question of a regular child. He would not look me in the eye when he asked me that question. He was swaying back and forth, looking at the carpet, and waited for me to give him the answer that he wanted to hear. I gave the kid my brightest smile and assured him that my kids did not intend to ever sit on the couch. That seemed to be enough for him, as his attention was diverted to other people walking around us.
And that was when he spotted a couple of teenage girls walking across the room and he called out the name of one of those girls. Now I had a clear view of the girl’s face, as she looked at her friend, and they seemed to be in a hurry to get away from that place. As I saw an expression on the girl’s face, I realized that I had experienced the same feeling a few minutes back when I was put on a spotlight by this teenage boy. The girls tried to avoid him, but he stood right in front of the girls, and they had no choice but to engage in a conversation with him.
This little incident at the library made me very aware of how uncomfortable we get when we come face to face with something that may be a little bit different. We like our things to be regular or as we like to put it, normal. Anything that is even slightly abnormal makes us uneasy. And how do we decide what is normal, simply put, it is a case of majority rules? If a majority of people speak or act in a certain way, that is normal and everything else either becomes a mystery or has to be put in a particular slot. We live in a new era, where we not only categorize objects and things; we have also learned to place human development in various categories.
Category Normal Vs. Special Needs
Unfortunately, human beings are not machines that need to be fixed. Every one of us has something that is unique to us. Our strengths are our own and our problems are our own. We are such a diverse gene pool and yet we are being forced to stay in the confines of one category of normal. And if for any reason, we fail to fit in that category, we are immediately thrown out of that circle and we are put in another category of “special needs”.
Now which one of us can honestly say that we do not have any special needs of our own? I like to feel special just as much as anybody who breathes in this world. I have the special need of being surrounded by my family and friends. I have a special need to be respected by people around me. I have a special need to be appreciated for my knowledge and skill sets that I possess.
I have the special need to be accommodated for my shortcomings that feel endless on some days. There are days that I feel that things could not possibly get worst for me or my family member. But, I have been lucky that none of my teachers or doctors have labeled me “special needs”.
I am lucky that I have learned the art of getting lost in a crowd by talking and behaving like hundreds of those that are next to me. My negative sides are only visible to those that are closest to me, my immediate family and close friends. They have learned to accept me as a whole, the good, the bad and the ugly.
It pains me to say it, but I feel like I have been the luckiest that none of my children have been officially labeled as anything other than being a kid. But I wonder when I look at the number of children being diagnosed with one thing or another, how long my children can escape this net? Does that mean I feel that children should not be given help when required? The answer to this question is a resounding NO. I personally am a very big advocate of early intervention. If there are problems, they need to be solved, and there is not a single doubt in my mind about getting children the required help. The real question is, “Is that enough?”
To answer this question, I need to take you back to the time that I was chatting with the teenage boy in the library, and the alarm bells that were ringing in my head. To be more specific, I have to admit to myself that the child’s behavior made me uneasy. If, as a normal grown-up, I cannot move past my pre-conceived notion of what is normal behavior, how can we expect the younger generation to embrace this difference? And if the younger generation is not taught to accept this difference, what are the hopes of these special children for leading a successful and fulfilling life?