The Genius of John Franklin Stephens and My Son

In the wake of Ann Coulter’s poor choice of words and John Franklin Stephens’ excellent response to her, I thought I would weigh in with what Zach has taught me about the “r word.”

Like Coulter, growing up I had no connection to the special needs community and thought it harmless and trivial to invoke the word.  Then my boys were diagnosed.  All of a sudden the word hits close to home.  The sound of those syllables stings the ears.  The word magnifies and crowds out everything around it, completely cancelling any other thoughts or ideas that the speaker may have been trying to get across.  It invokes a silent rage within.  My mind is a whirl of thoughts:  How should I respond to this?  Do I just try to ignore it?  Do I say something?  What’s the best thing to say?  How can I express the pain this word causes?  Do I really want to get into this discussion/fight right now?  Will it really do any good?  In the end I usually say nothing.  A day or so later a great comeback hits me.  That’s what I should have said as I play back the encounter and gain a small measure of satisfaction in finally formulating a thought.  But it’s too late, I failed in the moment to stand up for my son and I failed to enlighten the speaker about the destruction of the incendiary word he so naively (I hope) employed.

It has given me an understanding of what the “n word” is like to African Americans.  It always confused me as to why the word seemed to be used rather casually by members of the community but was an inexcusable attack when found on the lips of someone with lighter skin.  Shouldn’t the word have been banished altogether?  But now I get it.  Being a part of the group affords an understanding of the word’s power.  And those in the group are allowed to use it because they also have an identity within the community.  When someone from the outside says it, it is a whole different circumstance.

We refused the IQ test the school wanted to do on Zach.  We knew what the result would be.  We also knew that the test result would not make any difference in the therapy Zach needed.  So we refused it because we didn’t want the “r” label.

We also knew that the test was incapable of measuring what Zach actually knows.  It would be like me trying to take a history test in Chinese.  I would fail miserably because I not only don’t know the language, but the historical facts that the test would consider important would undoubtedly be focused on the East and my education has been decidedly western and European.  I would utterly fail, but it would be no indication of what I really know.

Zach is non-verbal so it is difficult to determine just what he receives and processes.  He is also uninterested in most toys and other objects that one might use to gain attention for administering the test.

But I know there is a lot inside Zach.  He is incredibly adept at navigating through the screens and menus of his iPad to find just what he wants.  He knows what is expected of him when we say it is bath time or bed time (not that he always does it, just like most 8 year-olds, I think).  After one visit to the chiropractor he knew exactly what he was to do the second time.  Slowly we are discovering more and more of what Zach thinks, feels, and knows.  And it hurts when someone cavalierly dismisses him with a word that doesn’t even begin to describe who he is.

I think this is an aspect of what Stephens so eloquently expressed.  Thank you, John, for enlightening us all.


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