Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
In her TED Talk, "I'm Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much," Stella Young explains how people with disabilities are seen as inspirational just for getting up in the morning. Even if they have not achieved anything exceptional, the fact that they have a disability means they are considered inspirational just for existing.
Young does not approve of that concept, and neither do I. As kind hearted as that thought may be, it does not serve my son who has a disability. My son is special, but not any more so than his typically developing twin sisters. It's true that my son does have to work harder than his sisters at certain things, but what will serve him best in life is to congratulate him for his hard work when it is earned and to correct him when he is misbehaving. There is really nothing inspirational about that.
That is why I adore Wil's friend, Seeger, because, to her, Wil is not an inspiration, he is just one of her buddies.
Back in September, Wil and I ran into Seeger on the way to school.
Wil gave her a big hug, which she knows to brace herself for, because he nearly knocks her over in his enthusiasm. They clasped hands, and off they went to school, two first graders with oversized backpacks slung over their shoulders, heads tilted toward one another, Seeger animatedly chatting to Wil as he listened and smiled, hanging on to her every word.
Seeger chatted Wil up about all sorts of things. She told him about her Grandmother's dog that just died but lived a few days longer than she was supposed to, and how the shoes she's wearing will give her blisters if she doesn't wear socks, and oh, watch out, Wil, there is some dog poop on the sidewalk, and how she stepped in dog poop once and now her shoes are in the dump.
Typical first grade conversation between friends. Nothing very inspirational about it.
But, Wil is not your typical first grader and neither is Seeger.
Wil is not typical because he has 47 chromosomes, while all the other children in his classroom have 46. In other words, Wil has Down syndrome, and his classmates do not.
Seeger is not typical, because it's not common to hear kids share these everyday types of conversations with Wil.
It's not that his classmates aren't friendly with him -- quite the opposite. They love to hug him, play with him and help him, but very few talk to him like they talk to their other friends.
I understand the reasons. Wil is behind his peers cognitively, so he doesn't have the capacity, yet, to fully participate in peer level conversation. But, he can contribute and desires to do so, is a good listener, fully comprehends what is being said to him and greatly benefits from peer level camaraderie.
In fact, the more Wil is spoken to in a typical fashion, the sooner he will develop the ability to reciprocate the same, and see himself as a valued peer and friend.
Seeger innately understands all of this. She recognizes that Wil has Down syndrome and certain things are very difficult for him, so she is very patient with him, helps him when he needs it, but she certainly doesn't put him on a pedestal or overindulge him because he has certain limitations.
One day, as I was giving Seeger a ride home, Wil reached over and mischievously grabbed her backpack from her. She looked over at him, told him firmly to stop and grabbed it right back. Two minutes later, they were happily chattering away.
Typical first grade behavior between friends. That is what I find so very inspirational about it.
So, now, when I think back to that September day, as I watched two friends walk off to school, hands clasped, oversized backpacks slung over their shoulders, heads tilted toward one another in deep conversation, I can't help but shed a happy tear over the sheer typicalness of it.
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