The cake has fallen or it may have a crack in the middle or it is not done enough or too done. You can have all the right ingredients but still not have a cake when you are finished. Sometimes it happens because the atmospheric pressure is wrong or the oven was on the wrong temperature, someone banged into the oven or even ran through the kitchen, causing the cake to fall. Or it can happen because you try and remove it from the pan too soon.
That is a lot of how it is when you are raising a child with special needs. Dan & I have worked hard throughout the years to give Nathan the right ingredients. We encourage him and challenge him to work hard. We love on him and talk him through many situations. We push him when he needs pushing. We give him a safe place to vent. We try and teach him the skills he will need to survive on his own. But sometimes the environment is working against us.
Many times when Nathan comes home and is upset and discusses how he feels like he doesn't belong either at work or the fire department, I'm never sure if it is reality or just the fact that he does struggle with social skills. However, the other night we attended the annual fireman's dinner with him and I saw first hand his reality. It was heartbreaking to me to see him ignored time and time again.
Now, we always challenge Nathan and try to help him see he needs to work on social skills. He does not know how to engage others in conversation very well. Often what he does is walk up to a group of people and will hover there, waiting to be spoken too. If they turn to talk to him and take the time to speak to him and keep him engaged, he does great. But often, when asked a question, he'll respond with a one or two word response and that's it. And to be honest, most people are terrible about drawing him out.
So at this dinner, he sidled up to a group of guys and they either nodded at him and continued their conversation or ignored him altogether. When they were done, they walked away and left him standing there. Not once the entire evening did anyone come up and approach him to speak to him. I saw him try a number of times, but people just kept walking away. We left around 9:00 and the event was supposed to go until 11. Nathan came home about an hour later very discouraged and hurt that no one talked to him. It made me sad. I cried for about two hours in the middle of the night as I poured out my heart to the Lord.
Now, rather than start bashing people, I do know that Nathan needs to learn better social skills. We don't ever say to him, "Poor Nathan." "How dare they treat you like that!" We challenge him and try to help him see what he can do to work on this. We talk him through situations and how to respond differently.
I like to think that the majority of other's behavior is not blatant unkindness but just being oblivious. People do not understand those with these type of special needs so they generally avoid them. If they took the time to get to know my son they would discover he is a hard worker, determined, positive, funny, and compassionate. Instead, they walk away to talk to their own friends and never learn this about him.
I have a support network of mothers who have children with special needs. One thing we have all agreed on is that is very hard for those children, young and older, who are high functioning and socially aware. The ones who understand they are not accepted have it hard. They feel the pain and dejection of not being wanted and of being different. They know when someone is making fun of them. They understand that they are not wanted. They want to fit in. They hurt. And we parents hurt too.
Dan & I have used all the right ingredients to make this cake, which is our son. But unless the environment or people accept him as he is, he will always struggle. Unless he feels he has at least one or two friends, he will always feel less than everyone else.
Nathan has a Facebook page and hardly ever posts there. I happened to look at his page one day to discover a number of posts by a co-worker who kept mentioning Nathan and posting disgusting sexually perverse things about him. As I talked to Nathan about it, I discovered he had no idea how to block these things from appearing on his Facebook page. So we had a lesson on how to tighten down privacy and stop being tagged in posts, etc. He faces these types of things every time he goes to work. He is constantly being made fun of because they view him as different.
My point in this blog post is to share a bit of what it is like to be Nathan and be on the outside looking in. He works really hard at the fire department and at work. He does his best. He really is driven to be successful. But it's hard when everyone looks at you as just being weird or different. My purpose here is to raise awareness so that people wil make an effort to reach out to those who are outside their circle of friends. It is to help people understand that not everyone is going to fit into their "social" cake pan but that doesn't mean they don't have value.
There are a lot of people like Nathan out there. Those who look "normal" but seem socially awkward. What is our response? Ignore them? Roll our eyes at them? Avoid them at all costs? Or will we work to include them? Reach out and accept them? Teach them how to respond properly?
Let's work at changing the environment for these precious ones that the Lord has made so that we can turn out a culinary masterpiece. Because the reality is that is how God sees them. A beautiful cake, designed by Him.