This past week I was booked to do a keynote speech for a school that serves a purpose that is of the highest calling in my opinion. Most of us are in agreement that a quality education is the right or should be the right of every child, everywhere. Personally, my fondest childhood memories are of my days playing at recess, or those “reveal all moments” that are associated with Show and Tell. I can remember most of the names of my teachers, and even the names of most of my classroom buddies, and I bet you can too.
I also remember that there were those few kids that were in one way or another….”different” than the rest of us. I remember that there was that “special” room at the end of the hallway where we all knew the “retards” were housed. I now, as an adult, of course hate that word…retard, but back then, back when the school you attended was your entire world, and the only thing that truly mattered was whether you were ‘in’ or not…it was they way we viewed things, thank goodness that for the most part, that way of thinking has changed.
Today, schools are the same in many respects, yet totally different in others. Now it is virtually impossible to find a segregated section of the school which is designated for those students considered to have special needs. Many schools have programs that incorporate these students into the everyday lifestyle of the overall student body. The school in which I am to speak next week, services nothing but “Special Needs” children whose ages range from 3 years old to 22 years old. I spoke with one of the teachers there who has been performing the selfless act of showing up everyday of the school year for over 30 years, doing everything within her power to treat these children with special needs, the same if not better than the more “normal” peers who attend regular schools.
The people who have dedicated their lives and livelihood to enhancing the school lives and home lives of these precious children, deserve the highest of praises from each and everyone of us! Many days these teachers, assistants, lunch ladies, bus drivers, crossing guards, custodians, office staff, and others, are forced to return home to their families burdened with the pains they experience on behalf of these special needs children. It is a fact that oftentimes something these caregivers/educators has seen or heard, some sadness associated with one of these students, will refuse to remain in their classroom and will follow them… even into slumber.
I enjoyed one of the best weekends I can remember in a very long time this past weekend. My nephew is a surrogate father to 4 special needs boys (see thumbnail for this post). As I watched these 4 very special boys swimming in the lake, fishing, or driving the boat, I was reminded of many years ago when I entered the state foster care system due to my adoptive mother passing away suddenly, and how virtually overnight, just like that…I was one of them, I was a special needs kid.
It took many years for me to overcome my low self-esteem, the pain and stigma associated with being a special needs kid, but the beautiful thing is…is that I did overcome those feelings. Today I live a life of fulfillment and overwhelming joy due to my career as a motivational speaker, a career built from those very stories of pain and rejection. I now make it my life mission to share my stories of triumph, and I fully realize that I am blessed and highly favored to be able to speak about those many wonderful people, many of them teachers, who always affirmed for me that I was not a special needs kid…I was simply a kid whose needs were special.
Please take a moment and thank God not only for the teachers in our communities that take on this oftentimes “thankless duty”, but also for the millions of wonderful kids in this world that are living proof that God makes no mistakes, and for their reminder to each of us that everyone of us has needs, and everyone of us IS special…in our own way!
Loren Michaels Harris