As a freelancer for my hometown’s newspaper, I occasionally make visits to the local schools to cover different events, retirements, classes, etc. A good portion of these visits is dedicated to interviewing teachers, administrative staff, and students.
Getting good quotes out of high school students is like pulling teeth. Not because they are rude (at least not in my experience), but because they seem self conscious. So when I paid a visit to the Forestry Technology class at my rival high school, it was easier to get sap out of the trees than it was to get information out of these kids. Except for one.
There was a blue-haired young man in the group who excitedly told me about their invasive plant eradication unit, which prompted the conversation that provided me with much more information on the class than I, still very much a rookie local “journalist,” would have gotten otherwise.
This student was accompanied by a young lady whom I had mistaken for a high school student. In fact, She was his paraeducator–a teaching-related position providing concentrated assistance to one or more students, usually with special needs. I never would have guessed my new friend had a disability by watching him excitedly working among his classmates. He was more than happy to speak with me with the slightest bit of prompting from his assistant.
My brief interaction with this young man, and seeing him interact with his classmates, got me thinking about the differently abled in general and specifically about those with developmental disabilities.
While there is definitely much less stigma now than there was decades ago, people still consider those on the autism and other developmental delay spectrums as “less” than neurotypical individuals. This could not be any further from the truth.
In John 9, after passing by a blind man, Jesus’s disciples ask Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” To which Jesus replies, “It was not that his man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
While there are some who believe certain afflictions may be the consequence of parental sin (which is implied in Exodus 20:5), John 9:1-3 tells us this is not necessarily the case. Jesus’s closest followers saw this man’s condition before they saw the man living with it, and Jesus reminds them all of God’s creation is deliberate and plays a part in a greater picture, including disability.
I went to high school with a girl who has Asperger’s syndrome. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you High school kids are not always the kindest.
I didn’t know how to stand up to the people who made fun of others, including my friends. I’d find myself a deer in the headlights, just praying for them to stop. Not a day goes by I don’t wish I could go back in time and say something. At the time, however, all I found myself able to do was be there.
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors…but when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14)
A lot of people in our high school didn’t understand this girl and frankly didn’t want to. I mentioned in “Why Can’t We Be Friends” that I only have friends because the people I know and love today came up to me over a decade ago. She was one of those people.
Nearly 13 years later she is still one of my best friends, despite my many shortcomings. She planned my baby shower and is a loving, devoted surrogate aunt to my son. We both love anime (she helped me realize being a geek is actually awesome), animals, and having a good time.
Many people don’t take the time to get to know people with disabilities, and are uncomfortable around them. The fact is, God has a great purpose for them, as he does with all of His children. If you don’t take the time to get to know someone because of their differences, you could miss out on a lifelong friendship.
I went to high school with another girl who has worked with adults with developmental disabilities for a number of years. She is a fierce advocate for the differently abled. She has told me she’s felt closest to God was when looking into the eyes of a child and when she heard the laughter of her clients. The amount of love she received from them changed the way she looked at the world.
A little over ten years later, she is still another one of my best friends, and another doting, nurturing surrogate auntie. Her love of the underdog and the ones who don’t fit in is something truly special and not seen often. Seeing her fearlessly defend those who can’t defend themselves inspires me to be better.
We can learn so much from those who are different if we just open our minds and our hearts. By reaching out to or letting in someone we might not go out of our way to be friends with, God is speaking to us.
God calls us to be an example to the rest of the world, and speaking up for and befriending those with disabilities is perhaps one of the best ways to do it. After all, while we are all made different, we are all made in His image.