I was going to share some good news with you the other day, but I was consumed with the debate between All Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter after the deaths of Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling. It’s times like this I’m a little relieved that my boys are mostly oblivious to anything outside their little world. But I have a responsibility to teach them how to interact, communicate, and treat others with respect.
It’s not easy to talk about race, especially with children who need everything spelled out in the simplest form.
I’m off the hook with Benjamin. He does not have the capacity to hate, or discriminate against others. I’ve seen him wake up from a 10 1/2 hour surgery and smile at the doctor. Simple as he is, he is not without opinions. He complains in his own way about TV shows and the food I serve him. He was also known, as a baby, to throw up as soon as his physical therapist touched him. He truly loved her (smiled when we were just socializing)….just not what she stood for. So, he’s always been way ahead of the game.
With Sebastian, I have to follow his lead in order to determine what he needs to know. He has had plenty of questions about race based on his real world observations. Like the time we were at the food court at a local mall and he asked, “Why is everyone who works here black?” Or the time we saw a mixed race family and he said, “Why don’t we have any black people in our family?” John and I have always tried to answer Sebastian’s questions honestly. We’ve told him, “Skin color doesn’t matter. People are people. You fall in love with someone because of who they are, not what they look like.”
Like many of my friends, I’m rethinking my message because skin color does matter even if we don’t want it to. We live in a world that’s very comfortable giving labels, making assumptions, and acting unfairly based on ill-informed judgements. The history of special education is riddled with such stories. I learned all about this history when studying to become a special educator, but I understood it on a whole other level when I gave birth to two sons who are both members of one of the largest marginalized groups in the world.
I don’t expect anyone to understand my life as I know it. Likewise, I cannot know what it’s like to be black, but I’ll keep listening because I know I can’t dismiss someone’s reality just because I don’t have the full picture. And I will continue to follow Sebastian’s lead when it comes to questions regarding race. Having autism and being educated in a segregated classroom for the last eight years, he knows a little bit more about being different than I do.
Recently, we were looking at his and Benjamin’s baby photo albums. He asked a lot of thoughtful questions like, “When did Benjamin have his first seizure?” and “When did you know I had autism?” Followed by, “I wish I wasn’t born with autism.”
Part of me crumbled inside because I want Sebastian to love himself. I want him to enjoy an honest sense of belonging and I fear that this unchangeable label will stand in his way. While I thought about how to respond, Sebastian added, “I want to tell the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, autistic. We’re all different.”
I didn’t think to correct him because I liked that he abandoned the whole “We’re all the same” message. He’s 100% right. Our differences shouldn’t matter. But they do.