Earlier today, I wrote that fearing a bad genetic outcome is the wrong reason not to get pregnant. Tonight, completely coincidentally, I had the pleasure of attending a talent show in which the performers were all developmentally disabled children. It was the best show I’ve seen in I don’t know how long. Despite disabilities ranging from autism, to cerebral palsy, to what was to me undifferentiated mental retardation, each of these performers gave his or her all to the audience. Surrounded by love and approval, they had no stage fright, no performance anxiety, no artistic neurosis. They just got out there and sang a song, danced, or played a musical instrument.
It is quite obvious that each of these children is a challenge for his or her parents. Long after their siblings have grown up enough to give Mom and Dad some free time, these kids need constant supervision. And when a brother or sister is making his way alone in the world, these children will continue to need full-time care. I’ve known several parents of handicapped children over the years, and all of the parents were worried about what would happen to their children when the parents’ strength and/or money ran out.
Those worries are real . . . and yet! Those kids brought so much joy. With fully-abled children, we take their accomplishments somewhat for granted. We expect them to read, sing, dance, play music, or whatever else. When they do well, we applaud them, but we also think, “Of course that’s what they’re going to do.” With the children tonight, however, everything they did exceeded expectations. Every note sung or played, every dance step, every happy chortle was special, because these kids are special.
I feel blessed every day that my children were born physically and mentally intact. I honestly don’t know if I would have the moral courage, not to mention the mental and physical stamina, to raise a handicapped child. Watching the children tonight, though, I was reminded, as I often am, that disabled children are not only a greater burden, but also a greater gift to their parents than so-called normal children.
Incidentally, while I’m on the subject of children whose disabilities are offset by tremendous gifts, I’d like to recommend a website that an autistic young man writes: Ido in Autismland. Ido has confounded autism experts because, contrary to theories about an autistic child’s empty mental and emotional state, Ido is an academically gifted young man who is thoughtful, articulate, and an extremely good writer. Reading his blog provides a rare opportunity to see behind the often blank face of autism.