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How My Child with Special Needs Taught Me to Make Friends and Influence People

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
02/15/18  10:06 AM PST
special needs child

How My Child with Special Needs Taught Me to Make Friends and Influence People

I left the house one winter’s morning with a carload full of kids. It was a day that would not see us home again before the sun had set over a rushed and crumpled dinner at McDonald’s. We are, for better or worse, a PlayPlace family.

On this day, I was accidentally the funniest and friendliest I have ever been and may ever be again. I can throw a one-liner just hard enough to leave a mark. However, wit takes at least a millisecond of forethought. In this case, it was the lack of forethought that won the day.

As a mother of three not-yet-school-aged children, I am used to this kind of humor. The mistakes turned into laughs. The underwear as a hat. The mittens as socks. The spaghetti mustaches. We expect this from kids, but assume we ought to be held to a higher standard. But for once it was my happy accident that ruled the day.

The best humor is the kind that creates a turning in the path of everyone’s expectations for you and for themselves. In my case, it was an unintentional slip of the shoe.

Every morning, I shower and dress and layer on the necessary level of makeup to make me presentable to the world at large. It squares my shoulders for the day ahead and offers one level of separation between mom-me and professional-me so that I can speak with the other grownups in grownup-land.

I do it all, the hair and clothes and makeup, before I get the kids out of bed so I don’t leave the house with underwear over my pants. The only thing I save until the last possible moment is the footwear. I shuck my slippers only when I walk out the door.

Except on this day, the slippers came along for the ride.

These are not UGG boots or even faux-fashionable moccasins. These are huge, fuzzy Walmart slippers that used to be white and are now the color of the underside of the car. They’re gritty.

I probably could have made it home between errands to change, but couldn’t quite make myself care that much. And these slippers were having an effect on people. My oldest son’s physical therapist laughed until one tiny tear slipped out as she watched me inch across the wide expanse of icy parking lot like a little old lady on skates. It’s funny to watch someone try not to injure themselves in fuzzy slippers.

The gas station attendant at Costco shoved his hands in the pockets of his jumpsuit and lectured me on proper attire for poor road conditions. He clucked his tongue. If he were one generation younger, he would have Snapchatted his friends about me. But by the end of my seventeen gallons, he had come around to the slippers. I caught a glimpse of his hand raised in a wave as I pulled off, my new friend Stan.

I happened to have an interview that day for a freelance job with an as yet unmet connection through LinkedIn. It was to be our FaceTime blind date. Could I have hidden the shoes below my twelve-inch screen and preserved my dignity? Well sure. But then I wouldn’t be me. Halfway through our conversation, I hefted my leg up to table height. There was now, I noticed, a crust of rock salt on the heel. It could have gone either way: radio silence or ice-breaker. She laughed. I got the job.

This, I realized, is why everyone loves my son.

He disrupts their sense of normalcy in all the good ways. He rolls on in in that wheelchair of his and waves and smiles and the world cannot help but smile with him. He blows kisses over my shoulder at random shoppers in the grocery store and they eat it up. He surprises his therapists with math equations and his ability to read full books at age five. This non-verbal special needs child is a whiz kid and it even makes me giggle.

I know a slip-up with slippers is not that big of a deal or even laugh-out-loud funny, but I love the idea that one tiny change can bring out the friendly in anybody. I love that humor can be so easily triggered. That the world-at-large can be benevolent.

This is something my special needs child has always known and has just managed to teach me. That strangers are waiting to smile.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.

Read her blog, The Mom Gene.

Follow her on Facebook.

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