Today, as I was gathering all of my income tax documentation in preparation for my first exclusive filing as a diplomat, I came across my donation receipts for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Autism Speaks. I stopped for a moment to think about why I donate to these respective charities and that brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the effect special needs children have on me.
How I first came across this moment? It goes back to May 29, 2015. Mercedes and I were eating as a seaside restaurant in Destin, Florida. As we were exiting, we passed by a family that was heading in. One of the children, who was being carried by another older child, grabbed me. I was slightly startled and the mother immediately told the child “no, no, no…don’t do that”. It wasn’t a big deal to me about him grabbing me but I was very much intrigued about why the other kid was carrying him around like he was. Mercedes told me that the youngster likely had cerebral palsy.
What it meant to me then? For a day or so after that encounter with the young boy in Destin, I felt kinda bad. It was as if he was suffering in silence and I was definitely no fan of kids suffering in silence. The young boy suffering from cerebral palsy also reminded me of a colleague from my past—Julie from the 347th Civil Engineer Squadron Customer Service Office. In a moment of frustration, I said something really awful to her while she was pregnant and that soured our relationship…made worse because that child ended up having special needs. To this point, I’ve never been able to make amends for that and I have a lot of regret there. I didn’t know much about cerebral palsy in 2015…didn’t know much about special needs children, actually. What I did know was that I felt like I had to do something. There weren’t any volunteer opportunities locally in Opelika and quite honestly, my travel-heavy schedule with USACE probably would’ve made it very difficult. But I did have a very comfortable financial situation. So I decided that I would donate to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Autism Speaks…$100 each annually. I also took some time to look more into the factors that lead to the afflictions young children face with cerebral palsy and autism.
What it means to me now? Today, all of this takes an entirely different tone with me. It’s widely suspected between Mercedes and I that Ashton may be autistic. In fact, I’d say he shows some of the same signs as Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff exhibited in The Accountant, such as his reactions to sensory overload and his knack for lining up things. Today, I know exponentially more about autism and quite a bit more about cerebral palsy than I did 7 years ago. And I still feel horrible about the suffering in silence of the special needs kids. I try to be a lot more present for my son and interactive with other kids as well. Of course, contributing to those great charities is still something I do…at a clip far greater than $100 annually. I probably could be doing more though. In fact, I should be doing more. At some point in the near future, I think I’m going to try to do a video post of an interview with a special needs counselor or specialist to further educate myself and The Book of Juan audience…and to bring awareness.