We’re more alike than different. That’s what guest blogger Jennifer Janes discovered during her middle school years. As you will see, God was preparing her for life as the parent of a child with special needs long beforehand. Perhaps her story will encourage you and get you thinking of how God prepared you for your parenting journey.
Finding Refuge in a
Self-contained Special Education Classroom
I was in the eighth grade when my world fell apart for the first time. An extended family member I was very close to found himself in the middle of a legal issue that was devastating and very public. I quickly found out who my real friends were and who wanted to talk about my family behind my back. And then there were the two boys who taunted me face-to-face for over a year. School was torture because they were always there, and I had no choice but to attend.
Then God gave me refuge in the self-contained special education classroom.
I don’t remember how it all came about, but somehow I received permission to escape when I became overwhelmed with the situation or the teasing. The teacher and I got along well, I was able to help her some, and I got to know my classmates who were students in that class. I didn’t know what their diagnoses were (although I can guess some of them now). I had only spent time with these kids in P.E. class and on occasional field trips. I was a little uncomfortable at first because I didn’t really know these kids, but I had heard other students talking unkindly about them. I knew how that felt, so I figured they deserved a chance.
We’re More Alike Than Different
Although a tragic situation led me to their classroom, something else kept me there long after the legal situation ended over a year later. That something was friendship. As I spent time in the self-contained classroom, I became friends with my classmates there, and I learned something that changed my life and how I interact with people with special needs: we’re more alike than different.
As I got to know my classmates, I learned their likes and dislikes. I found out what they hoped to do when they grew up. They shared their jokes with me, and I laughed along with them and learned to love their sense of humor.
So yes, we were more alike than different. But they were also different in all the ways that mattered. I was hurting, mixed-up, and confused by my family drama, but my classmates were friendly, accepted me unconditionally, and seemed to enjoy my company as much as I enjoyed theirs.
Awareness Campaigns Make a Difference
To thank them for their friendship and kindness to me, I launched a little awareness campaign on behalf of my new friends. In the situations where we were all together, instead of leaving them off to one side with the aide, I went over and spoke with them, listening to their latest jokes and what they were doing in their other subjects. I introduced them to some of our classmates who were open to making new friends.
I wanted more of the students outside that special classroom to see what I found there: a young woman who loved dressing in bright colors and pretty jewelry, with a heart of gold that gleamed in her smile; a young man who wanted nothing more than to be accepted by the students outside of the self-contained classroom; another young woman who expressed genuine concern for those in distress; and a brilliant young man trapped in a body (and motorized wheelchair) that belied his intelligence, sense of humor, and zest for life.
Some of them never got it, but a few did. And we were all better for it.
Your More Alike Than Different Experience?
When did you discover kids with special needs are more alike than different from other kids? Tell your story in the comment box.
Jennifer A. Janes lives in Arkansas with her husband, two daughters, a few cats, and a couple of gerbils. She spends her days homeschooling her kids, writing, reading, crocheting, traveling to therapy and specialist appointments with her younger daughter, and enjoying time with friends and family. She shares about her faith, family, and parenting and homeschooling a child with special needs at jenniferajanes.com.
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