This video has been making the rounds on Facebook for a while now; a reader left a link to it the other day. It's about Jason McElwain, then a senior and basketball manager at Greece Athena High School in Rochester, NY. He has autism. The coach put him in the last game of the year, with four minutes to go. What you'll see will have you standing and cheering too (and maybe sobbing).
There's something that occurred to me as I watched the video. The other students couldn't have been cheering Jason on any more enthusiastically, yet the adults seemed somewhat dubious about him. Condescending, even. The reporter noted that the school has a "most unlikely hero" and that the coach "decided to let Jason actually suit up." The coach said, "If I wasn't there to witness it, I wouldn't have believed it."
Hearing this stuff bums me out, because it makes me acutely aware of how so many people view kids with special needs. Their expectations are low. They can't see our kids' possibilities, only their challenges. They disbelieve they are capable. They dis their abilities.
I am obviously not the most objective person, but I just can't understand why people seem so awed when kids and adults with special needs achieve. Yes, my son has challenges to overcome, but his cerebral palsy doesn't hamper his motivation and determination. He may lack skills in certain areas, but he has talents in others. Like any children, those with disabilities have their strengths and weaknesses. Why is it so damn hard to believe when their strengths shine through?
I may sound hypocritical, I realize, because as a parent of a child with special needs I constantly cheer him on; every step forward is worth celebrating, every new skill a big deal, every inchstone a milestone. I share them all here. But that's my role as a parent. Besides, I am not shocked or surprised to see my child succeeding; I expect it.
I wish for the day when kids with autism and other special needs are regular members of high school sports teams, and of society, too. I wish for the day when their special needs do not make people think they have scored "despite" their disabilities, but because they had the drive and talent. I wish for the day when #52 on the basketball team is a Video of the Week not because he has autism... but because he played a great game, period.
I wish that if you are reading this, you would believe in our kids' powers to succeed.