A Picture’s Worth
“We care and therefore we pay attention and we act.”
— SARA BITTER
running for Ohio State Senate in the 7th District
So we’re looking at a picture of my older son, Austin, who was a little over five years old. I’m in my bedroom looking down on his brother who is just born, who’s probably two weeks old and laying in my bed and I’m kneeling down. And I took a picture of the two of them, and it’s just a photo of Austin with his hands on his cheeks just looking down lovingly at his baby brother. And you can see in the background, my son’s crib, and next to our bed because he was still a newborn. And you can see pampers, diapers on the nightstand and a pacifier and other things that I needed for him while he was sleeping next to me.
Austin was recently diagnosed with a developmental disability called fragile x syndrome. And his brother was born and we learned that he too had the same developmental disability. I remember my own worries and my own fears and I was thinking about the future. I was asking myself, “How am I gonna do this?” and, “How am I gonna do this not only for me, but how am I gonna try to make things better for them?”
I look at this picture a lot, my husband and I look at this a lot, and we both realized that these two boys are growing up and my oldest son (who is not a little boy anymore), but these two are going to be each other’s helpers for life.
Disability is a very natural part of the human experience. People have had disabilities since the beginning of time, and people with disabilities bring many gifts and many new ideas and new perspectives to the world. When you have a challenge, sometimes you come up with a very creative way of solving problems, a very different way of solving problems. And it’s important because as our societies and cultures and communities change and evolve, we need all people, all innovators, all ideas, all perspectives.
I want families to feel proud of their children, to feel supported by their community, by their families and friends, coworkers, people in their churches or synagogues. I want people to feel connected to others and I want to talk about these issues because I believe in people.
Austin loves to read. He loves books, he loves music. He’s a bit of a perfectionist and whenever he has a struggle with something, which is quite often, he will repeat it over and over and over again until he can master it.
He’s persistent, he’s hard-working. He’s also very caring and remembers everything about anyone he ever meets and genuinely wants to learn about that person and care about that person.
And then for Jasper, in the photo. I think it shows that Austin’s caring, first of all, I think you can see that from the photo, but for Jasper, although he’s a tiny little baby, he is just full of life. He’s happy, he’s friendly, he’s playful. He loves to be outside and play and play in the dirt, play in the grass, play at playgrounds, ride bikes, do everything that every other kid wants to do and does. I think that Jasper laying there was actually playing in his newborn way in that photo.
When my younger son was born, when Jasper was born, Austin loved him immediately, and he knew him immediately, and he wasn’t afraid. He embraced him, and he loved him, and now he protects him and takes care of him. And that’s what we all do when we have a person in our life who has a disability, who has a mental health condition, who has some kind of difference. Maybe they’re dealing with an addiction or some other issue. We care, and therefore we pay attention and we act and we try to do what we can to help that person because it impacts us.
And actually people with disabilities are the are the largest minority in the world. They are from all races and religions and backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. People with disabilities are in 30 percent of American households. So 30 percent of all American households have a person with a disability living in their family. Disability is wide. It can be a person living with autism or Down’s syndrome. It could also be a veteran coming back from war with posttraumatic stress disorder, or a person who has Alzheimer’s or diabetes. It’s a really big number.
The biggest lessons that I have learned from my children are that life goes on. Life will move forward. And it is important for all of us to do our best, to fight, to make sure that people are able to live in their communities, to go and get a job, to be surrounded by people that they love and care about and have purposeful, meaningful lives.
I think that what I learned from them is I can’t be afraid. I have to be brave about this. I have to go out there and try.
This article and the podcast were originally posted on apicturesworth.org