by Georgia Evans
Guess what? I was born with a face that scared everybody. The doctors did seven surgeries within ten days, and that was just to keep me alive. When I was a month old, they worked very hard to make my huge cleft palate go away, only it just became smaller, not gone. Because my heart wasn’t supposed to be where it was, they couldn’t do anything to get my shoulder blade out of the middle of my back. I can’t talk, but I can smile. And, I love it when somebody shakes my hand.
My teacher became very upset when we visited a store for social skills practice. One time, I saw a man who looked sad, so I tried to make him happy. Only, when I walked up and offered my hand, he didn’t really look at me before he turned around and walked fast to get away. I think if we were at school, Teacher would have taken him to the office.
Sometimes, a friendly person would smile and shake my hand. That made my heart happy. When they ran away, Teacher looked mad sometimes, and sometimes she got a tissue and wiped her eyes. I know what crying is, and it hurt my chest when people ran away, but it hurt more to see Teacher so sad.
One day, our Class Helper whispered to my teacher, but all I heard was this woman who loved me saying I wasn’t contagious. Then, I figured out my teacher was going to “have a word” with a man who made an ugly face at me, but our helper told her we wouldn’t get to come back to this store. That would be bad because we Christmas shopped there.
One Christmas, we had a cart full of stuff, and my teacher kept telling our helper it wasn’t too much, and if she didn’t buy toys me and my friends wouldn’t get any.
She loves me. She helped me bake my own bread and bought all kinds of scissors to use for art. Even the fancy purple ones that fastened to my hand flipped over and cut a little off my shirt sleeve. Teacher sat down, and even though she wasn’t very big, she put me on her lap. And, guess what? I could cut paper. We cut out so many snowflakes, the big window was covered. I was proud when they were all up there because I helped make them.
Every day, after washing before recess, Helper told me I had to wash my hands again because I had been playing with the wheelchair tires. I was just an eleven-year-old boy and would be silly, happy, frustrated, or any emotions you can think of.
I loved school.
Teacher would say “Art time,” and Helper lifted stuff and groaned (maybe her belly was empty. I wish now I had shared my toast with her.) Teacher and Helper got a bunch of stuff out and put it on the table. I sat by my friend in her wheelchair. We picked things out for art class–lots of pretty paper. I think my teacher likes blue the best, but I like green because that’s the color of my favorite book.
I love art, too.
Okay, you’re probably wondering what the POV of a child with severe disabilities has to do with writing.
How many times have you written even a tertiary character as disabled? I decided to place a character with special needs in each book of my In Shadow trilogy and succeeded; a person with disabilities is in each book. One believes the world is his, another character followed his father’s instructions because he didn’t know they were wrong, and the third is a person who has been neglected, laughed at, and blamed for things he didn’t even know how to do. He wanted his mom to love him, but she lived in her television shows and didn’t know how to parent.
If you haven’t figured out from my descriptions, I taught children diagnosed with severe to profound disabilities. The narrator is a compilation of my students.
So, writing…the question is, can you get inside a character’s head if there is too much confusion? What motivates these people? What can you do with a character like any described above?
Here are my answers:
a. First of all, do not pigeon-hole them. For example, a popular opinion is that when a child has Downs, he or she will be sweet and loving. Most of the ones I’ve met are, but “Harvey” was grumpier than the Grinch.
b. Flesh out your characters. Whatever you do to create a “normal” character is a good idea for these, too.
c. Realize your character mustn’t be a cliche. People with the same label are not going to have the same behaviors or attitudes.
Let’s finish with a few and often misunderstood do’s and don’ts.
1. The child is the important one, so why do we give the gift of respect to their disabilities? A boy with autism is NOT an autistic boy. Put him first, and he’s a boy with autism. This applies to every disability.
2. Not one single person is handicapped. That’s the absolute truth. Many, many people are disabled, but not handicapped. A handicap is a situation or place outside of their control. A person can’t be handicapped; he or she is disabled. But, when a person wants to eat in a restaurant with a huge flight of stairs, and there isn’t a ramp to roll a wheelchair on, he is now in a situation that handicaps him.
3. If you take away one thing from this blog, please make it be that, just as with any group of “normal” people, each is unique.
The best instruction, though: Remember each and every person is God’s child. He made them, and he doesn’t make mistakes.
One of the better websites I’ve found may give you even more of an understanding about these precious children: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6292/
Georgia Florey-Evans is new to the Christian Romantic Suspense. She has switched from the Contemporary Romance and found her niche. She lives with her hero of thirty-seven years in a small Illinois town and is thankful all six of their grandchildren are nearby. Georgia is her pastor’s assistant and writes the church’s weekly newsletter. When not writing, she enjoys reading and walking her puppy, Gizmo. She loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her and read her blog at www.georgiaevansauthor.com.