...and their outstanding, hopeful little boy.
Tuesday night I attended a keynote address by Ralph, Emily, and DJ Savarese, sponsored by ChildServe, in Johnston, IA. DJ is a high school sophomore who is a non-speaking person with autism. Ralph, a professor at Grinnell College, and Emily, a specialist in autism, adopted him when he was 6. Ralph describes DJ’s journey from non-speaker to communicator, student, and activist extraordinaire in his extraordinary book, Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption.
I reviewed Reasonable People for ADDitude magazine and Adoptive Families, it’s one of “Kay’s Picks” in the staff picks section at the library where I work, and I recommend it on my website. So, when I received a flier in the mail from ChildServe announcing this presentation, I had to go.
Natalie isn’t autistic, so why do I care? Why am I so into promoting a book about autism?
First of all, I don’t believe that diagnoses are clear cut. They’re helpful in describing neuro-differences, and in guiding treatment, but very few kids fit neatly and completely into one diagnostic category. Does yours?
Take Natalie for example — while she clearly has ADHD, she also has Sensory Processing Disorder, and anxiety issues. She shares some stimming behaviors with kids who are autistic. When over-stimulated, for example, she flaps her hands, and she rocks when tired and to get to sleep.
No, she’s not autistic, but I can learn from, get support from, and give support to parents of kids with any type of special needs. And the Savarese family, with their vision of a world that is inclusive and respectful of people with neuro-differences, is particularly inspiring and energizing.
Unless Natalie bombards me with ideas for topics to blog about, as she seems to do, in the next few days I’ll share a couple of thoughts that I took away from the presentation.
For today, I want to leave you with a quote. This blog isn’t about adoption, but being an adoptive parent — and specifically a parent who chose to adopt a child with special needs - is an integral part of who I am, so bear with me!
From my March 2008 email interview with Ralph Savarese:
“I hate the fetish of blood relations. Not only does it make adopted children and families feel like second-class citizens, but it perniciously tells us that our ethical obligations extend no further than our natural (as opposed to artificial) ties.
So screw the homeless man on the street or the poor family on the other side of town. So long as I’m good to my mother, well, then, I’m a good person. Baloney! We need to open our eyes to the predicaments of those less fortunate; we need to look beyond the walls of the gated community that is often the blood family. More creative family making might actual help us to realize the sentimental trope of the “human family.”
For my wife and me, adoption was a FIRST-resort adventure in responding to the desperate plight of a badly abused, wordless little boy. This boy has given us MORE than we have given him. Has it been exhausting? You bet, the most exhausting and challenging and anxiety-producing thing I have ever done. Ever. But also the most rewarding.
Why are we on this planet? I believe to grow in our capacity to care and attend to human suffering. By stretching ourselves, sometimes beyond measure, we find a joy that approximates wisdom. My wife and I are NOT saints and don’t appreciate being compared to such beings. Our relationship has suffered. We don’t have time for the many things we used to do. But whose relationship hasn’t suffered with the arrival of kids, whether adopted or not.
Looking back on the last ten years, we marvel at what hope and commitment can accomplish."
Crazy Kay moment - I had (okay, still have) almost uncontrollable urges to paint this quote on my living room walls! Hope it inspires you, too! For additional inspiration — read the book!