A few days back, my son and I were watching the film,‘Wonder’.
Wonder is an absolutely beautiful story of a ten-year-old boy, August (Auggie) who suffers from a facial deformity due to which his mum has home schooled him all along. The film explores his (and everyone else’s journey) as he attends school for the first time ever! Auggie uses several ways to get by, starting with a helmet to conceal his face until he feels totally accepted for who he is. I think everyone should watch this film!
My son is 10 too. At some point while watching, he mentioned another child with special needs and I said, ‘well, we are all kind of special needs.’ He thought I was joking and said, ‘no, I’m not.’
That really made me think! There was an undertone of them and us.
The whole ‘them’ and ‘us’ just doesn’t sit right with me.
The way I see this is that we all have special needs, each one of us! At some junctures in life, they are more pronounced than others, yet suffering is a common human denominator, as is joy.
The difference though is that sometimes the need is visible while at other times it is not. Sometimes we need assistance, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we need assistance! Some of us do and yet we never ask. Mental health doesn’t come with a start date, a stop date or an expiry date and to begin with, not all circumstances have labels.
The movie too explored this by bringing out the parallel journey for Via, Auggie’s sister. In the movie, while Via is not suffering visibly, deep down, she misses her parents’ time and attention and tries her best to be understanding, finding her own ways to get by. As they say often people with the biggest smiles are often the ones hiding the pain.
Even Ellen DeGeneres touched upon this in her Netflix stand-up ‘Relatable’ when she spoke of her ‘lesbian’ label being celebrated for five minutes after which it all went back to ‘her’ and ‘us’. I guess she acquired the ‘special’ status!
My point being, it’s not them and us; it’s all of us.
So if you agree, here’s an alternative mindset. let’s name it ‘all in or all out.’
All in or all out!
What this means is that instead of putting people into different boxes such as ‘a person with special needs’, ‘a person suffering mental health issues’, ‘a widow’, ‘a divorcee’, ‘a lesbian’ why don’t we all get boxed or we all ditch the box!
Total inclusion. Zero exceptions. Zero labels.
Of course there is no real box so all it takes is a shift in mindset, phew! And here are some tips to get you going:
- Be kind in your attention: Next time you speak with someone, give them your undivided attention, whatever medium you are speaking through. Even a flippant text can hurt. In fact especially with texts because you really can not tell what a person is going through. ‘I’m fine’ is an amazing cover up.
- Look for the special need: When connecting with people, look beyond yourself, try and understand what they are saying and what they are not saying. Use your gut, read what lies behind words and do what you can to help out.
I explained to my son how some of his and even my own needs were totally different to the rest of the world, and just because we were not seeking additional support just at this moment in life didn’t make us any more or less privileged. I made a joke of it to say we are all kind of weird in our own sort of way and that’s totally cool.
Have a fantastic 2019 when it comes. Don’t forget to celebrate the weirdness in you and all around you!