Understanding and Acceptance

cooper 21

People get really nervous around individuals who are non speaking. Or folks who use a wheelchair. Or who look different.

I didn’t know that before I had my son Cooper. Before he led me wide eyed into the world of disability.

Without knowing he showed me how a person can be invisible. A person standing front and center. Some of it’s subtle. The overlooking of a person. Some is not.

And it’s hard to see. As his mom it’s hard to not get mad and sad and frustrated.

Because I cannot think of any reason why we shouldn’t acknowledge a person. I truly can’t. Not ever. I don’t care if they can’t hear or see or speak. We should say hi. Every time.

I assume it’s the differences that can make people nervous. For example my son is considered nonverbal. A term that is not well known. It’s complicated too. People don’t know how to act around him. They don’t understand. Much like I didn’t before him.

He flaps his arms and squeals with joy and dances when there is no music playing.

I’ve noticed that people talk over him. Or around him. Or at him. Or as if he’s not here at all.

They speak really loudly as if he’s deaf. He’s not.

They speak really slowly as if he couldn’t possibly understand. He does.

I’ve even noticed some people don’t greet him. They will say hi to everyone but him. Which is bizarre because he loves greeting people. Typically with a hug.

At least once a day, and I’m not exaggerating, I will say to a stranger…’ can you wave back please…he really wants to say hi.’ And I watch the strangers face turn red and see them sheepishly wave. I give them grace always. Because that’s what we ask for in return.

Some people ask me if he wants a snack. Or if he’s thirsty. When he’s standing right next to me. I always respond the same way. Every time. Kindly and gently.

‘I don’t know? You can ask him though.’

I share this because we can all learn so much. Just as I have from my own son. He’s taught me about patience, disability, differences and seeing.

Please be curious. Please want to learn. Want to include and do better. Because from that comes understanding and acceptance.

If you are nervous…say you are at Target and you see a person flapping their arms or your friend brings over her autistic son or you find yourself standing in line next to a person using a speech device to communicate…

Just say hi. Like you would anyone else. And do not be embarrassed if they don’t answer verbally. Because that’s ok. They may not be able too.

But they know. And their mama knows too. That you said hi. And we thank you.

And if you see Cooper feel free to ask him about his photos. He’d love that. He’s quite the photographer.

And if you are lucky, he may even show you his favorites.

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and join our supporter page, Coop’s Troops, for an amazing community full of support and understanding.



Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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