I sat back and reflected on my autistic son Zachary’s Christmas Program at school. For anyone who has ever attended a program put on by special needs children, it is the sweetest most heartwarming experience you could ever witness, They try so hard despite all of their fears and complications. It is funny as hell when some of them get so excited they literally jump out of their skin when they see their parents, or when a little boy stands up and reads the night before Christmas and then bursts into tears because he is so over stimulated by the applause. Some of the kids really ham it up, while others act like they are too cool for school (that would be my Zach). It is just something that words can’t describe and the emotions that you as a parent feel watching these kids try so hard are so overwhelming that it is hard to put into words. Every parent there is rooting for every child. It is as though for one brief moment we all become one family cheering for “our” kids and taking pride in watching each and every child’s accomplishment as if they were our very own.
As I looked around the room and saw the tired faces of all of these parents/grandparents/caretakers sitting there with their cameras and video recorders, I couldn’t help but feel an instant camaraderie with them. You can just look at each other and there is an instant bond that is unspoken yet says so much. I know for a fact without even formally meeting them, that they have spent many nights awake worrying themselves sick about the future of their child. I can look them in the eyes and know exactly how they felt the day that they realized that their child was not like other children and that life as they once knew it was never going to be the same. Just a simple handshake with one of these parents can tell a whole story, a story that I know, a story that we all know. A story about an unconditional love that only gets stronger as the years go by. There is no competition with this group of individuals. You will not observe a click of parents who think their child is better than all the others, or who is mad because their child didn’t get as much stage time as another. You will not find any parents judging what a child is wearing, because we all know that certain children cannot bear to wear certain fabrics. There is such an absence of ego, and such a unity of spirit. It is really extraordinary. I can sit there and know without a doubt that if my child tried to dart out of the auditorium, that there would be an army of concerned fathers who would instinctively run over and make sure that didn’t happen. I know for a fact that if there was a child on stage that was upset and throwing a fit, not one parent in that room would feel annoyed or that their child was slighted, or that the performance was ruined. We have all been there, we share a bond, and it is inevitable. There is an overwhelming sense of compassion and gratitude among this group of individuals. People are courteous, they move out of your way so that you can see your child when it is their turn, they bring plenty of tissues and pass them around. They clap and applaud for each and every child; they laugh with the kids and cry with the other parents. There is mutual respect, admiration, and empathy. Parents of special needs children can become lifelong friends in an instant. Something comes from deep inside that can make you just meet someone, even if it is on the Internet and just love them and their child immediately and go above and beyond to try to help them in any way you could. A part of you that tells a complete stranger to call you anytime day or night if they need a shoulder to cry on, or advice or just someone to bitch to about how unfair life can be at times. This is no small matter, this is one of the perks of having a child with special needs. There is a whole community of strangers out there who love and care about you and your child whereas a friendship that didn’t include this common ground may take years to blossom. We can skip through all the niceties, and get to the heart of the matter in seconds flat while having complete faith and trust in each other. For this I am grateful. We need each other and we pull strength from each other. We are the experts and our own consultants. I looked again around that room filled with tired, weary, overworked but hopeful caring people who for one hour put all of their cares and worries aside and I silently blessed every one of them, because they are my friends, my family and my fellow soldiers who share a common bond and an important mission that has been entrusted to us. May we continue to rise to the challenge.