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What a child with special needs understands (that you don’t) – #superheroalert

The following true story is used with permission, by an old friend, who runs a business helping the elderly while she mothers her 32-year-old daughter. Her daughter, who we will call Lucy for protection, is generally nonverbal, and walks with some difficulty. She needs help eating and wiping her face, and requires much of the other care that a toddler does. I remember thinking, when I was little, that Lucy’s parents had sad, patient eyes, full of a love that knows suffering.

Let Lucy’s heart strengthen your hero journey.

Frequently I am asked, “How much does Lucy understand?” My standard reply has always been, “She understands what is in ‘her’ world.”

Certainly she understands her morning routine includes a caregiver getting her up and then feeding, bathing, and dressing her. She knows it is then time to leave the house for something fun: music therapy in Upperville, goat petting in Lowerville, people-watching in the park, or just local errand running. She has an infallible internal clock that tells her when it is time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and she has her bedtime routine down cold.

Lucy routinely has three responses, each used at the appropriate time: “hello,” “all done,” and “no.” Her receptive language is more extensive, as long as instructions are in the context of “her world.”

Or so I thought. Until tonight.

Until tonight I believed all Lucy’s communication was physical and self-serving: leading someone to the refrigerator to get her more yogurt, handing me my purse to indicate it’s time to leave, pulling someone out of a chair because Lucy wants to sit there. I never understood Katie’s communication could be in the emotional realm…until tonight when Sofia shared the following story.

By way of background, Juanita is a feisty, cheerful, energetic young lady who serves as one of Lucy’s caregivers. She is home for the summer after her first year at JMU. As many mothers know, it can be tough to contain the joy of having a child back home after months away. But as many returning college students know, a mother’s love can feel smothering. Juanita and her mother, Rosa, are no exception: Juanita returned home ready to chill, and Luz was ready to bond; Juanita feels smothered, and Rosa feels hurt.

At 4:00 Juanita arrived for her shift. As long has been the tradition, Juanita packed Lucy’s dinner and they left for Juanita’s house to eat with her family. On the drive Juanita vented to a friend about this bonding/smothering dynamic. About 15 minutes into the drive Juanita noted Lucy was unusually quiet – silent, in fact.

Juanita’s anger was still festering as she took Lucy into the house. As Lucy headed to her favorite spot on the porch Rosa came out to say hi. Juanita, who viewed her mother’s presence as more personal-space infringement, did not want to talk to, or even to look at, her mother.

Lucy reached for Rosa’s hand. Rosa thought Lucy wanted to clap hands. But no – not even when Rosa offered Lucy her other hand. Lucy then reached for Juanita’s hand. Juanita, too, thought that Lucy wanted to clap. Again, no. Both women were doing their best to interact with Lucy individually so they would not have to interact with one another.

At this point Lucy was holding Rosa’s hand with her right hand and Juanita’s with her left.

And then it happened: Lucy took Juanita’s hand and put it on Rosa’s leg. She then took Rosa’s hand and laid it atop Juanita’s hand. Lucy then leaned back in the loveseat, her job done.

Juanita cried. Rosa cried. Rosa got up and hugged Juanita.

Lucy, with little speech, needed none: God had spoken through Lucy.