See that little guy on the left? He turned 22 today. Yup, you’ve probably seen this book in your school library or a Scholastic flyer and yes, he is my son. He was born with spina bifida – news we found out just 4 days before he decided to make his way into this world. I am glad he was our second child. My husband and I didn’t think twice about letting him go everywhere we let his sister go. In fact, she was his greatest motivator because he was either trying to catch up with her, or stay in her face to bug her. We also let him make his way in the world in whatever way made sense to him. Members of our church have fond memories of my 18-month-old son football crawling under all the pews giggling as I sat slightly embarrassed by his escape from my arms.
My dad would cover his ears when my son came sliding head first down the wooden stairs of their Cape home, his knees thunking behind him on every step. His therapist created a small belly board for him when he was 14- months-old and he became a glutton for speed. His favorite activity as a pre-teen was zooming all over our cul-de-sac on a skateboard doing all the crazy things he saw his friends do standing up.
My son’s disabilities were mostly physical in the beginning but his learning disabilities became more apparent as he progressed through school. The school accommodated him with special desks and fittings in the bathroom. But it was harder to deal with the learning disabilities. How do you accommodate a kid who learns by watching videos about topics and talking with people? By the time he was in 10th grade I told him it would be okay with me if he decided to drop out because I knew “school” was not going to meet his needs.
Luckily my son went on a field trip to our local tech school when he was in 7th grade and fell in love with the idea of becoming a welder. After leaving high school he enrolled in a 2 year welding program. He ended up with medical complications and a year of being a “pot-head” but he made his way back, got his GED on the way, and will hopefully finish his first certificate this fall. My son credits us for sticking with him through thick and thin — and his girl friend. I know that some of it is just plain developmental – our boys need time.
I am glad my son grew up in these past 2 decades where there are books that feature kids with disabilities and schools that integrate our children. My son celebrates his disability as well as being terribly aware of his limitations; he is learning to guard the capacities he has.
He is uncomfortable with the fact that many people think he is a war veteran but is excited about the improvements for the disabled that will happen as our country responds to the needs of the war wounded.
My son can hardly wait to get back into his welding classroom. Tragically there are too many others like him, who will fail in the classrooms they enter this fall, because there will be no field trips to schools that celebrate “hands on” work, or no family support, girlfriends, and older sisters to pull and tug them into a place they can be successful.