Tearing Down Walls
Today (meaning Friday...I'm still awake, so the day hasn't changed over yet, at least not in my little world) I had a visit from a dear friend. This friend is a special sort, because she actually gets paid to come and talk to me! As our Autism Service Coordinator she works very closely with our family to help meet the needs of our children, which is why she came over. Today, I think she probably met some of my own needs a little more.
There's very few people in my life that I can successfully use (and I mean that in a good way) as a sounding board. Usually, I end up being the sounding board for others and when it comes to my problems...
*moment of respectful silence*
Yeah, that pretty much covers it.
So, having a friend like this who is not only knowledgeable about the issues I face on a daily basis, but is also well-connected is a real boon. She's also in a position to meet parents who do not necessarily handle their circumstances well, so when I say something off the cuff that doesn't sound right she's not fazed. She doesn't jump to conclusions. She lets me talk and work my way through it.
So, when I told her that I wasn't "okay" with mental retardation being applied to my boys, she took it for what it was worth and she let me talk it out. I appreciated that very much, because I hadn't yet gotten past my initial reaction and I needed something to loosen up the rocks in my head. See, I wasn't okay with me not being okay with a diagnosis of mental retardation (which my son hasn't yet received, but it is a possibility), because I didn't understand that aspect of myself. I didn't know why I wasn't okay with it. And I wasn't willing to delve too deeply into my own psyche yet. Not so much out of fear of what I'd find, but out of fear I'd misjudge myself.
This meeting, this conversation proved to be the catalyst for solving that mystery. I found that as I talked to my friend, it wasn't that I wasn't okay with mental retardation itself. It wasn't that somehow I'd think less of my son if he were to be found mentally retarded. It's that, in growing up, a wall had been built in mind. It is a wall that I know others have built up in their mind and that society has built up collectively.
This wall is not so much one of prejudice, but one of misunderstanding that leads to severely low expectations. I couldn't imagine my son being mentally retarded, I couldn't wrap my mind around that, because I falsely saw mental retardation as a closed and locked door on his potential. It wasn't that I wasn't okay with mental retardation; it was that I wasn't okay with this false sense of limitation that I assumed went along with mental retardation.
I'm a stubborn person, and this can often work much to my disadvantage. However, it's also an advantage when you have people telling you something that you are not willing to believe. When my son's (Willy's) doctor told us there really wasn't any hope for him to have a successful, productive life and we should just institutionalize him so we could get on with our own lives, I very stubbornly rejected this doctor's prognosis (with the full support of my husband) and we went on to prove him wrong.
This time it's somewhat different, however, because it wasn't the doctors who were putting arbitrary limits on my child. It was me. Almost. Except, I'd rejected the possibility of a certain diagnosis, because I was not willing to put such limits on my child. I'd even gone so far as to consider pushing for a diagnosis that might not be accurate, because I could deal with it better. After all, I know autism. I can handle autism. I couldn't handle even the possibility of mental retardation, but for the wrong reason.
In the end, it's not the possibility of mental retardation that I have to eliminate from my world view; it's the walls I have built up in my brain that limits the potential of those who are mentally retarded that must be eliminated. Walls can be torn down. They can be moved, much like a mountain, and reformed into something beautiful...like stairs that reach to the height of my sons' dreams.