Today is National Autism Awareness day. As a Special Education Teacher, I have the honor and privilege of working with students on the Autism spectrum. Working with students with special needs in downtown Los Angeles is definitely an adventure. I’ve never done anything harder. This is where people usually pat me on the back and tell me that I “…must be a very special person to work with special ed kids.” This is where they look at me with eyes that think they know. This is where they smile and make it seem like I am some kind of hero. I’m not. I’m far from it. I cringe that people could see what I do and think it was heroic or special because the work of loving others belongs to all of us, and the kids are the real heroes in the story.
And I’m not sure where we got this idea that the ability to work with people with special needs was only meant for a certain type of special person. The work of loving our neighbors belongs to all of us just the same. This was never about me. It was always about them.
On this special day, and every day after, may we consistently seek ways to be more aware of those around us. May we recognize that diversity comes in all shapes in sizes, but may we also recognize that this means we have a role to play in building a community of mutual trust, understanding, and above all else, love. This includes those that span the full spectrum of diversity, neuro-diversity included. When we judge someone based on their diagnosis, we miss out on their abilities, their beauty, and their uniqueness. The world misses out.
When I think about the true heroes in this world, I think about my kiddos. These kids, these ones right here, these are the ones that press forward despite their struggles. These are the ones that dare to have hope in the face of hardship and oppression. These are the ones that won’t take “no” for an answer and refuse to let the fire inside of them burn out. These kids teach me what it looks like to persevere and seek joy every step of the way. These kids are my greatest treasure.
My prayer today (and every day) is that we don’t miss out on the incredible hearts and minds of people with special needs simply because we are ignorant, scared, or unwilling to live with the heart and eyes of Christ. I pray that our eyes are opened to the beauty of differences, and I pray that we as a community continue to seek ways to understand and love those that are different from ourselves. That process is not always easy, in fact, that process is one of the hardest things I have ever done, but our greatest calling will always to be to choose love and community in the hardest of places. Our kids will always be worth it.
The world cannot afford to miss out on another brilliant mind, loving heart, and beautiful soul because failed to recognize the treasure that lies in awareness, appreciation, and understanding. I promise we won’t regret it.