And while this is more common than not in today’s world, it was a first for our house. It was also a first that I expected sooner rather than later. Knowing this, I assumed I would be fully prepared to know how Sully would respond (poorly) and how I, as his mother, would need to support him (intensely).
When I had gotten home that night, Sully asked me right away if I thought he was weird. If he talked funny or moved strangely, as a boy in his class told him right after knocking his headphones off in the middle of the classroom. I asked him if he thought he was weird, “Yes! I am weird but weird is good and weird makes me unique.” He spoke matter-of-factly, as if everyone knew this to be true. It was then that I realized that Sully’s angst over the exchange wasn’t because someone told him he was weird but because others found weird to be negative, that different meant bad or less than in some way.
The next day Sully returned from school with a homemade book entitled “We Think You’re Special.” Each of his classmates had written down something they see different yet valuable in my son – things like the way his builds paper airplanes, his deep laugh, or (my personal favorite) his “good brain mindset.” His teacher used the incident as an opportunity to teach her class how difference brings joy and inspiration to others.
A Yale study released in 2015 found that autism may be a genetic marker that signifies the next step in the evolution of our species. Whether Sully is a walking example of human evolution or not, he is and will always be different. And that difference has power. Sometimes that power brings about fear in others, while other times it can be catalytic and be used to unite people.
My child was bullied last week, an incident that was instigated by fear, yet concluded with understanding and learning. The power of difference that comes from kids like my son interacting with his typically developing classmates is invaluable. I believe those opportunities will create a more understanding world where others see differences as appreciated, celebrated and, hopefully, weird.