Hurricane Irma paid an uninvited visit to Ft. Myers, FL while we weren’t there; but upon our return, we found she had made a lot of changes. Our usual casual walks were being blocked by tall greenery now laid horizontal and that soon began changing to brown dried up fading foliage. Clean up had started and much progress was being made but it was noticeable that street debris (some piles over 10’ tall) was moved to what used to be well trimmed tree lawns now a holding ground until machinery could mulch it all up! At least there was an allowance for cars to drive through the mess. Caring neighbors recommended we take our casual walks a bit more seriously—not the dietary, health related type of walk, but watching for heavy hanging branches, twigs that could snap, and being cautious of turned up cement from fallen trees. Admittedly it seemed a little overly cautious until we actually took that walk!
Like the uninvited whirlwind visit from Irma is the unexpected journey many of us travel as we weather the storms of special needs.
We’ve learned to walk cautiously in some areas of life, tread carefully over unleveled and shaky ground, and we’ve hoped someone would be looking for us…like me next to the fallen (maybe 60’) banyan tree. Can you find me? Will you take the time to look for me?
For those of us on this journey, we sometimes feel in the midst of the storm—tossed around and often tattered, occasionally given a gift of reprieve in the eye of the storm, but most often we feel missed, overlooked, and honestly: sometimes dismissed. I often watch the darting eyes of others from Joey to us, and then off into nowhere - like they didn’t even see us. Rarely does someone seek us out. Some do; like some of you will look for me in the picture. Some others just don’t look – they don’t take the time or make the effort. Some don’t want to. Some can’t. Some don’t care. Some want to but don’t know that next step.
I understand each of those reasons people don’t “look.” I remember how I felt about being with or seeing one with special needs before having our Joey. I didn’t know better, I wasn’t educated, and I just didn’t know how to initiate conversation in this kind of a situation, which was awkward for me back then. But what I know now, being on the other side of special needs, is we want that conversation. We want you to look, and then find us. Find us in conversation. Find us in caring. Find us in that journey of “for better or worse” that we’re walking (or running, or treading!) Take the time no matter where you find us:
· Out in the community: Give us a smile. Say hello. Ask us how we are. We’d love to do and ask the same of you! Please don’t let us walk by without that connection! We’ll say “hi” first, even….but ours eyes need to meet!
· In the schools: Take the time (kids and parents, both!) to meet and get to know those around you with special needs and their families. Invite the child with special needs to something you do: a birthday party, an outing at the park, or a movie. As a parent, I’d have gladly joined as a “helper” just so my child could be included.
· In the church: Do you have a respite program (oh, how some of us need, welcome and appreciate this time away) where our child/adult child can be safe and have fun while we get away for a few precious hours? Do you welcome those with special needs to participate where they’re able (welcome team, clean up crew, etc.) in a serving capacity? Have you thought to minister to the family with care at home during times of crisis, surgery, etc.? Have you taken time to talk to the family to learn their needs (they often won’t ask)