First, a little back story.
Do you remember the letter, featured on Yahoo back on Aug 19th about the anonymous “pissed off mother” who had left the angry letter on Max Begley’s grandmother’s door? Max has autism, and stays with his grandmother during the day in the summer. The anonymous mother left a scathing letter suggesting, in plain English, that Max be euthanized and his “non-retarded” body parts be donated to science. You can see the Yahoo story from the 19th here.
This got me pretty fired up, and spurred me to write this post on Aug 20th. My initial response was to shout and yell and carry on. Problem is, that’s not really how I operate. That’s why I took a deep breath, waited a day, then carefully began my post, which ended up being an educational piece re: autism and its many wonders.
Just today I became aware of a story covered by the Huffington Post. Karla Begley, Max’s mom, was given an opportunity to speak her mind via a website called Love That Max. Here comes the tricky part. Love That Max is hosted by Ellen Seidman, and it’s a blog regarding her own son Max, and other kids with special needs who “kick butt.” The two Max thing threw me for a minute. Anyway, Ellen reached out to Karla (famous Max’s mom) and gives her a chance to respond to the hate letter.
What I really respect about Karla is that she doesn’t stoop to the level of her son’s detractor. She says, “What I have to say is about tolerance, acceptance and respect for kids with special needs.” I love it! Be the change you want to see in the world. She could have easily gotten her hands dirty flinging mud back in the other direction, but didn’t. It takes a strong person to get spit on, then continue to show love and compassion for your attacker.
Karla takes a lot of time to really explain that Max is a person first, and a kid with autism second (or maybe third or fourth); helping the reader to see beyond the label. Before we got out of the business of making Jake wear autism-related gear, he used to have a t-shirt that said, “I have blue eyes, a great sense of humor, a big smile, and autism.” It was a nice reminder that autism doesn’t have to come first. Too often, in our lives especially, it seems to be the sun we all orbit around. But Jacob isn’t just autism. He’s a killer pillow-guitarist, an expert Super Mario controller, speed-racer on a bicycle, and lover of animals. He’s got a crazy sense of humor, and loves when things are backwards. Ask him which way up is, and he’ll point to the ground, unable to contain his laughter.
Karla goes on to give an example of when a word of explanation smoothed out an otherwise uncomfortable situation. She was in a restaurant where her Max was kicking the booth of another patron. When the guy turns around, she explains that he’s got autism, they’re trying to get him comfortable in a restaurant, and thank God he’s not screaming! It defuses everything, and they continue with their meal. So many times Jake’s behavior has caused onlookers to be perturbed and confused. A smile and a brief explanation are usually all it takes.
Funny story that’s only a tiny bit off subject: We’d been shopping at Hannaford with Jake. He was especially verbal that day, loudly naming items and speaking animatedly about fruits, boxes, things he wanted, etc. He tried to weigh his arm in a produce scale and squealed with delight as the needle went around the dial. Anyway, when we were loading our items onto the conveyer belt at the front, a VERY large woman in one of those “for our guests who need a lift” scooters pulled up behind us. She commented at how pleasurable it was to be in the same store with Jake, who was such a pleasant and delightful young man. Just then, he turned an got an eyeful of this woman. He gasped, and our hearts stopped. Would he mention her weight? Would he say something we couldn’t take back? Would it be rude to slap a hand over his mouth and run for the exit? Instead, following that sharp intake of breath, came, “you’re an angel!” The woman beamed, and if given the chance, would have adopted him right then and there. I only bring it up because it’s one of the few times he’s let us off easy.
Back to Max. Instead of being euthanized and “parted-out,” his community has rallied around him and his family. People are going out of their way to make them feel welcome, and some good bridges are finally being built between the Begleys and the rest of their neighborhood. No longer is Max being ostracized, but rather understood and accepted. Even the Huffington Post suggests that maybe the anonymous author might be the one driven from the area.
One more quote from Karla: “He is a blessing. I think I’m lucky: How many mothers still have their 13-year-old son wanting to sit on the couch, have mommy time and cuddles, and not be afraid to show love and affection?”
Only when we learn to appreciate people for who they are, not who or what they aren’t, can we truly learn to love them.
To see Karla Begley’s full letter on Love That Max, click the link.