A lot of thinking tends to happen on 6am flights when the world is just waking up for the day. I took this picture after I paused a movie I was watching that had become just a bit too real for me. I could feel my eyes welling up with tears and I didn’t want to unleash the monsoon that had been brewing behind my eyes as of late.
I decided to finally watch the film, Wonder based on the book by R.J. Palacio about a magnificent young boy who is mainstreamed into his public middle school for the first time after being home schooled due to his special needs and unique physical attributes. I had been delaying the viewing of this film because I knew it was going to evoke certain feelings and fear and anxiety that I have been trying to stifle deep inside myself since we first received Nico’s Autism diagnosis. I knew this film was gonna hit home big time because Nico, too, is at the precipice of moving to Kindergarten next year and, for the first time, he will not be in a self-contained environment with only other children with Autism.
Needless to say, I knew it was time to watch this film.
I made a promise to myself that I would watch it with an optimistic mindset and look for coping strategies that his parents (played by the lovely Julia Roberts and effervescent Luke Wilson) use to support their son in transitioning to public school. I knew that one of the main themes of the film was going to focus on the lack of acceptance there tends to be of people who look and seem different. I was going to study how both our story’s hero and his parents handled it, as well as how the school played a role in creating a place of inclusion and acceptance.
Bullying is my greatest concern for Nico. I know it’s every parent’s concern, but my concerns are much more heightened because I have a special needs child. Period. Nico’s Autism causes him to display many stimming behaviors which are not always deemed socially acceptable…whatever that means. Who makes these social rules up anyway? He also is not fully verbal so it can be difficult to understand what he is saying. These behaviors have garnered many stares and have discouraged my husband and me from bringing Nico into certain social settings in the past. However, once Nico goes to Kindergarten next year I won’t be able to ward off the ugly stares and protect him. I won’t be able to be his voice when he is misunderstood. It scares the living crap out of me and I need to learn from others who are going through the same thing.
But, enough about my feelings. My biggest wondering was how our story’s hero was going to handle being mainstreamed. How he was going to handle the stares, muffled comments behind his back, and the feeling that he wasn’t “socially acceptable.” Up until now, Nico has been blissfully unaware of the stares and comments regarding his behaviors and quirks. It is only my husband and me who are always ready to go to battle with anyone who dares to not see how amazing our Nico is. The film does a fantastic job of showing both the highs and lows of our hero’s first year of school. It doesn’t sugar coat the lows either. That’s what I needed to see because I am a realist; I know Nico is going to have low moments in life to accompany all of his high points, so I have to know how to help him cope with those low points if, and when, he feels them. The film gave me lots of great messaging and tips to consider which is why it has resonated so much within the special needs community.
Wonder gave me infinite hope that humanity will win out in the end and that people are innately good….not all people (which the film did represent), but most. Nico is in for a huge life change come next year. He will be faced with challenges like never before. Faced with teachers who are not there just for him and his needs, nor chose to work with children with his needs. I will not be able to protect him from everything and everyone nor can I homeschool him (although I have seriously researched it and considered all pros and cons). Besides, the only real reason I ever considered homeschooling Nico was to protect him from cruelty and hardship, but that’s life. Hell, I have faced my own fair share of cruelty and hardship.
I wonder everyday what Nico thinks about in that amazing, incredible, creative brain of his. I wonder if he knows how loved he is by me. I wonder if he knows that all I do is for him and because of him. And I hope he knows that regardless of the struggles he may face in these upcoming years that I have been mentally, physically, and emotionally preparing for them since before he was born. Our children are our finest masterpieces in life. Shonda Rhimes literally said it best: