"She is too smart to act like that."
"Her bad behavior and angry attitude is a choice."
"A good spanking will cure that."
"If he can't sit still, he doesn't need to be here."
"What's wrong with him?"
These are just a few of the many phrases that I have heard through the years. I've heard them in school, from teachers, at church, from friends, extended family, and from total strangers. And yes, they cut to my core. I hurt for my children and fear what words they may face in the future. If people can say these things to my face, what are they saying behind my back?
I have two beautiful children both with their own special needs or disabilities. However, in my house, we call them their super powers. Oh yeah, that's right. We celebrate their differences. We focus on what can be done, what can be improved upon, and we persevere.
But this article is about perceptions. The perception of others, a mama's perception, and a child's perception, particularly concerning my daughter, my youngest. She is about to turn 13, full of life and laughter, and is currently being treated for high anxiety, Tourettes, and Aspergers. She is highly intelligent, craves learning, and reads like her life depends on it. If you were to meet her, you would probably instantly see how bright she is. You would be surprised at her age, as well, after that first meeting. She looks older than she is and, as my mother would say, "She has an old soul."
What you can't see is how she gets a thought stuck in her head and worries about it over and over. She worries about our tiny budget, worries over the rise in crime, worries that she can't meet expectations in school, worries about college, worries about nuclear war; the list goes on and on. You might see a slight tick in her body movement or hear a slight vocal tic from her. But you won't see or hear the tics she tries so hard to control. Anxiously keeping them inside, she worries if she is being annoying or if people think she's just weird. Holding her tics inside is taxing physically and mentally on her, and fuels her anxiety even more. The tics eventually will come out, usually when she comes in from school and can relax knowing our home is a judge free zone.
Lauren's perception of any given situation is askewed to what a "normal" person's perception may be. Sometimes her mind plays tricks on her and attributes factors or emotions that may not actually be present or needed at the time. With her anxiety, her mind is automatically suspicious, fearful, worrisome, and anxiously waiting for the downside in a conversation or situation. With the Tourettes, her mind seeks out anger, conflict, accusations, and turmoil to prepare itself for the always present battle at hand. The Aspergers brings in the first or strongest emotion it primarily encountered with the other person involved in the conversation and will not let go of that emotion lightly or easily. In other words, if Lauren's first few encounters with you were unpleasant or argumentative, then in her mind every encounter from then on will be unpleasant or argumentative. This isn't just her opinion of a person, it is what her mind is telling her. And, because of the aforementioned conflicts, it is very hard to distinguish between what she is perceiving to be true and what is actually true in any given conversation. It is easy to see how difficult this may be on relationships and every day life for Lauren.
Strangers, school personnel, new friends, or anyone who doesn't know what she struggles with may see Lauren as a difficult, argumentative, and problem child. This is what hurts. This is what needs to change. I was very surprised at the lack of knowledge of this, particularly at Lauren's public school this year. Even after my countless attempts to explain, accommodate, and mediate, the school personnel still see it only as a behavior problem that can be corrected with strict discipline. And because of this lack of knowledge on their part, I pulled her out to homeschool with only a few weeks left of this year.
As I said before, this article is about perceptions, that is the perception of others, a mama's perception, and a child's perception. The last one I want to talk about is my perception, the mama's. My children are not perfect, as I am not perfect. I get frustrated. I get depressed and exhausted and feel lost at times. I can see their flaws. But I can also see their beauty. With Lauren, this is what see. A beautiful child growing up way too fast. I see her passion for learning all she can about herself and the world. I see her love for others and her loyalty to them. I see her nurturing and kind disposition with animals. I see her amazing talents on the written page, a canvas, or in her song. Oh yes, I can see her.
So, perception can change depending on who you are, the situation you are in, and what you allow yourself to see. Maybe if we all can open our minds and eyes just a little wider the next time we see someone struggling with a child "throwing a tantrum". Or, if we see a woman holding up the line at the grocery store counting her change out to buy that milk with messy hair and wrinkled clothes. Perhaps, give a sweet smile instead of an eye roll, or just say "Good morning," and, "Have a nice day." And maybe, just maybe, we can change the world a little at a time.