Mothers know things about their children. Call it intuition, a message from God, or “a great idea that just came to me” – sometimes a mother just knows. What a relief! Because there are also times when a mother doesn’t have a clue. With my Down syndrome son it often feels like the latter; that’s why this is Part 1. Though I have had some very dramatic moments of clarity with regard to him, much of the time I am just taking my best guess at what he needs or wants or understands.
For example, when, with a pointed finger, he sets in front of me the picture of a certain toy from his current genre of interest, and this picture has been cut out and taped to a clean sheet of paper – – it’s pretty clear that he’d like me to secure for him this toy for his purposes . . . and sooner rather than later would be nice. On the other hand, there are times when he seems oblivious, won’t speak, or if he does it is incomprehensible and no matter how much I want to, I just can’t come to know what he’s thinking or is trying to say.
One thing I have learned though about handicapped people is that their thoughts make sense. And not just to themselves. If you can follow it, there is reason in where their mind is going. I used to see a handicapped person talking, perhaps to no one and nothing, and I thought that words could just be randomly dropping out of their heads. This is not so. I have learned over the years of being in classrooms and attending events that if a handicapped person is speaking, no matter if no one is listening, there is something they are actually thinking about. There are thoughts or requests or a story or memory that are actually being played out in their consciousness and so they are talking about it. Now, you and I don’t have to listen, and if we did we may not be able to make out the action portrayed, but they know what they are saying and they know where the story is going. They are “in there” because they are real people. Just like anybody, they each have something really wonderful, interesting, or surprising inside if you look for it.
To “look for it” is a skill that takes energy. If you greet a person with special needs, they will respond, though you might have to wait for it, which is something that teachers or even grandparents don’t always take time for. Talking to a person and then not waiting for a response might be worse than not greeting them at all. And you may have to also watch carefully. With my son sometimes it’s just a barely perceptible thumbs up, or he will smile, but he turns his head away first. So, you have to know what you’re looking for, and you might have to accept some delay, but you can see it in their eyes when they are engaged with you – if you wait for it.
I see things now in other students in my son’s classes or on his baseball team that I could never have seen before I learned these things. I see delight. I see recognition. I see connections being made. I’ve noted the nearly imperceptible sometimes when someone gets a joke. These aren’t dramatic moments, you might say, and they aren’t – – unless you’re the one being understood. If you are the one for whom the world flashes by in ways you cannot always comprehend, even a small moment of connection warms the soul, I have to think. I know it
does mine. I love it when those eyes that appeared vacant only a moment ago show even a quick spark that reminds me who’s in there. I may not know much about you, friend or teammate of my son, but I know you are somebody. I may not be able to understand what you are telling me, but you do, and I wish I did because I’m sure I would find your thoughts interesting. I’m going to keep guessing and telling you that I don’t understand so that you will know that I am trying. I want you to know that I want to know what’s in your mind so that even if I can’t ultimately get it, your soul will know that I value you.
I know that my ability to perceive hampers the connection, but every person can make some contact. So whether you are my child or someone else’s, even if the moment is just a flicker in time, when we’re together I’ll try to honor you by looking into your eyes and . . . wait for it.