YouTube Can Be Magic

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
05/22/24  6:30 AM PST
disabled children in school shootings

I know. Social media is the worst. Instagram is pulling our kids into a comparison bog that sucks them deeper the more they click. TikTok has shrunk all our attentions spans to ten-second blips. Facebook is for ads and Twitter/X is for bots. But hear me out. YouTube is old school. It’s free content of all the stuff I miss from my childhood: game shows from the 90s, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, Claymation!

Some people take power naps to recharge during the work day. I take YouTube breaks. I think it’s silly in the best way and somewhat productive in that it did teach me how to remove a broken light bulb from a socket and how to re-grout my kitchen sink.

charlie with ipadThe best part of YouTube, however? It’s that I share that love with my son Charlie. You see a kid peering down into the blue glow of his iPad and the first thing you think is that he’s burning up precious brain waves and wasting time. But for Charlie who uses a wheelchair and is mostly nonverbal, YouTube is his gateway to the world. It opens doors to other countries and adventures that he would not be able to access on his own.

I often catch him watching videos of kids getting on buses. That’s it. It’s just kids in wheelchairs loading and unloading from the special needs bus while parents and aides assist. He’s especially partial to a high schooler named Sam. So am I by this point. We wave hi to Sam every time he comes on the screen. It’s both wonderful and necessary that Charlie see other people in the world existing like him.

One day, I was heading up the stairs to his room to bring him a snack and I hear my own voice echoing through the house. I paused. Was I having some sort of episode? Is this what happens after you turn forty? The ghost of your younger self begins to haunt you? I walked into Charlie’s room and he immediately pointed to me and then the screen and then he cackles with laughter. He had found videos of me reading my book. I laughed so hard I had to sit down the on the carpet and take a breath. Sometimes when he is sad at school, his teacher will let him look these videos up now. It’s not a small thing to know I can bring him comfort even when I am not there.

Because Charlie’s account is linked with mine, sometimes the videos I have been watching will play for him and vice versa. I can’t tell you how many times Blippi and The Wiggles have snuck into my feed. But just last week, I was cooking dinner and heard Leon Bridges crooning from the living room. Charlie had found my NPR Tiny Desk series and the words to Bridges’ “River” drifted into me on a sweet wave of happiness. I paused meal prep, walked into crouch down next to him, and we leaned shoulders together. We stopped. We listened. We let time slip away without a worry about IEP goals and therapy exercises and bills and meals and all of that. We just existed together in the music.

YouTube has been a gift to us in and in a world where those kind of easy moments can be hard won, I will take them when they come.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.
Author of the middle-grade novels:














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