We’re All Special Needs

To the outsider, I looked a little crazy.

There I was, running around the lazy river, chasing a 14 year old Haitian boy, his chocolate skin shimmering in the water. I grabbed his muscular body and tossed him under the surface. He came up spluttering with a smile on his face and grabbed me right back. It was a child’s game, but he looked so grown up – with scruff on his face to prove it. 

But he was, and will always be, a child inside.

So we played.

Some people smiled as we splashed past. Others looked with concern. Little ones were uncertain. Lovence is a big boy and without his glasses, he furrows his brow to see and sometimes looks… well, angry.

I often find myself wanting to explain our story. There’s a reason this middle aged white woman is chasing down a teenage boy. He is all baby boy inside and loves to play. There’s a reason he doesn’t respond when people do smile and say hello. He doesn’t speak. He avoids eye contact. He is different. He is special needs.

Lovence looks “normal” so people are always a little offended when he doesn’t respond to their greeting.

I usually follow up with, “He doesn’t speak, but he appreciates the hello!”

Then they give him grace, then they smile warmly at us, then they understand.

I find myself so protective of my boy. When two children giggled and pointed at him, I called him over. We hopped into the hot tub and sat there together. Every so often, he touched my arm or held my hand, grounding himself in me, in my protection.

As we sat there, I saw a special needs adult across the way. He was carrying his big body over the lily pads that were anchored in the water. It’s typically a child’s past time, but he was having a ball. People watched with smiles. His unique needs were visible and they cheered him on.

He was different. They could see it. Kindness and encouragement freely given.

I thought of us all. As individuals. As fellow travelers in this broken world. I thought of the weight of social expectations that are so deep and layered. The expectations of how we should speak, smile, respond, navigate stress, handle social connections, disappointment, authority. Only for most of us, we do it without a protective body beside us to lean into, to hold hands, to shield and explain.

Very few handle it perfectly. Each one of us with our own special needs requiring understanding. Maybe not visible, maybe we look “normal” – but for some, crowds overwhelm us, or stress undoes us or authority scares us or expectations undo us.

How different would it be if our compassion for each other’s differences extended to all people rather than those who simply look distinctly “special needs?”

The person who is grumpy in the grocery line may be worried if they have enough money to cover their basketful of groceries. The one who scowls may be stressed and overwhelmed and undone by his work. The child who stares blankly at us when we greet him or her may suffer from autism or anxiety or any number of social issues.

We may look “normal” – but most of us have hang-ups that require some significant grace and compassion. Maybe if we keep that in mind and say hello anyway, smile anyway, love anyway, cheer anyway, encourage anyway – maybe then this world would be a bit brighter, warmer, safer place for all of our differences to reside.

18 Responses

  1. Thank you Elsa, I understand this very good. You hit the hart of our broken, human behaviour….
    You’re a beautiful woman and mother…God bless you…

  2. Thank you for the beautiful words Elsa.
    I had the honor of working with Lovence when he first came to school in the U.S.
    He May have special needs but to me he was just special. I think about him often.
    He May not be able to speak to show his love for others, but he speaks volumes in so many other ways. So good to hear he is thriving.

  3. I’m finishing up a book called, “Lest Innocent Blood be Shed.” It’s about a village out in the French countryside during WW2. The villagers were dedicated to saving Jewish lives from being deported to Nazi Germany.
    The whole philosophy was that every life has worth and should be saved.

    Thank you for being purposeful in reaching out, not only to your son, but to everyone that may be a little bit different! You’ve encouraged us to realize that every life has worth.

    Hugs, Elsa!

  4. My son Nicholas recognized Lovence immediately at the pool and wanted to say hi to his friend from school, it melted my heart! This was an amazing read, thank you so much!!

  5. Beautifully said. We all love Lovence at FMS. He is sweet and amazing and great to work with. You are awesome parents.

  6. Oh forgive me Lord for the times I was embarrassed by my special needs niece,or my great nephew.. I needed to read this article . Thank You!!!!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and responding! Praying you have some sweet connections with your niece and great nephew.

  7. So good dear sis! Love how you write. Some day maybe, I will get there. But, for now, I will just admire from afar!


    1. Thanks so much, Piet! And I think you’re an incredible communicator in every way – through pic, words and in person!

  8. How wonderful that you shared your experience so that I could look compassionately at everyone as people who might have special needs of one kind or another.
    How fortunate that Lovence has a Mom like you, His feelings are very apparent in his smile….he is loved.

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