Imagine working in a job everyday where you are constantly stressed. And when I say "stressed" I mean levels of stress that give you headaches. Every. Single. Day.
How would you react if you were in a job where no one really explained what you were supposed to do? And the directions kept changing, so even when you think you've got it, you're wrong.
Everyone who instructs you talks way too fast for you to understand, and then they get annoyed when you're confused. You often feel as if your boss and coworkers blame you for not trying hard enough, because they say things like, "You need to try harder" or "You didn't listen to directions" or most commonly, "You need to FOCUS! Why aren't you listening?" when really you are, but it's like trying to decipher a foreign language.
And even when someone tries to help you understand, you feel singled out. Sometimes they even make you miss your coffee break because you need to catch up on your work. And boy, would that coffee break have helped you focus more.
The atmosphere of your office is super distracting too, so that does nothing to help you focus. There's really bright lighting that hurts your eyes, annoying Muzak is playing everywhere and you cannot tune it out. Someone always brings a nasty smelling tuna sandwich whose odor permeates the entire office. There are notes and posters and brightly colored pictures and memos hanging on every square inch of wall space and it hurts your eyes to look at.
Then, imagine having no friends at all among your coworkers. They all think you're kind of an odd duck, and you really don't get the rules of their social group. You would like their acceptance, but have no idea how to gain it. No one in the entire office has a clue what you are going through.
This is what I imagine a day at school is like for my son, Danny, who has autism.
And this is why Danny is my hero.
When I hear people talk about role models, many people come to mind: Temple Grandin, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Amelia Earhart. But after seeing Dictionary.com's definition of role model--a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others--I thought of someone else. Someone who I admire greatly. Someone who, despite great personal struggle, continues to progress and improve.
Because even though school is an amazingly stressful place for my son, he never gives up. Danny has struggled to attain almost every major milestone in his life. I can only think of a handful that occurred naturally. Every other one took hours of therapy and instruction and practice. Things that come relatively easily to most kids take much work for Danny---learning to speak, to use the bathroom, learning to count money and read a book are just a few examples.
And yet, despite all the adversity, Danny has thrived. He has learned and grown and succeeded because of his hard work and determination. And because he never gives up. Ever.
But what's even more incredible about my charming son is that he has not let these struggles crush his spirit of adventure and curiosity. Danny lives life to the fullest. He's exuberant and doesn't care if that makes him uncool in some people's eyes. He embraces experiences with a delightful sense of adventure, which makes being around him so much fun.
Most people look at my son and see a kid who's quirky, different, even weird. But those people don't know anything about who my son really is. He is strong, courageous, and determined. He is adventurous, ebullient, and passionate.
And that is why Danny is the coolest kid I know. And this is why I want to be just like him.