We are honored to have a guest blogger! Samuel Moore-Sobel. He is also a valuable member of Team Awesomism! Please check out his contact information at the end of his Blog, and support him!
Do you ever wish people saw you for who you are?
A near universal feeling, guided by the human desire to be known. For those around us to readily accept us, despite our idiosyncrasies, quirks and subtle differences. Being understood is like finding water in the middle of the desert. So often, our reactions and actions are misjudged by those around us. A reality that can generate a feeling of deep loneliness.
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” George Orwell wrote in 1984. A quote underscoring the importance of being known, in a world that often traffics in one-dimensional views and stereotypes. People are so easily and loosely defined by a single attribute. Physical appearance, vocation, spouse, or social status. We employ these generalizations in an effort to distill the essence of a person, without taking the time to discover the complexity inherent in every human being.
Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in the lives of those deemed different in the eyes of society. Persons with disabilities are routinely misunderstood. Those unfamiliar with persons with disabilities sometimes struggle to readily know how to interact. A perfectly natural reaction, one most typically experienced whenever encountering something entirely new.
I remember the first time I spent an extended period of time enjoying the company of children with special needs. Working as a camp counselor, I found it difficult at first to connect with the campers. Worried I might act in a manner that would make things worse, I did my best to watch and listen, attempting to ascertain the best way to interact.
By the end of the summer, my teenage self soon made an important discovery; mainly, that the children I worked with were just like any other, in many ways. They enjoyed playing catch or participating in arts and crafts. They liked to run around a room, playing with their friends as they jumped high in moon bounces. They experienced emotions such as anger and sadness, joy and happiness. Some had extroverted personalities, while others were more introverted. All in all, there was much more to them than met the eye. A truth that could be said about most people.
It has been heartening to see television shows attempt to display this truth on screen.
ABC’s “Speechless” follows the DiMeo family as they navigate life together. The oldest son, J.J. (Micah Fowler), has cerebral palsy, and can only communicate by utilizing a wheelchair device. The show invokes quite a bit of humor as it chronicles the life of this heart warmingly relatable family. J.J. is quite likeable, and acts in a manner reminiscent of many of his peers. He can be spoiled and rebellious, just like his counterparts. The parents fret over their children, much like any other, and do their very best to provide for each child as equally as possible. Siblings vie for attention and even act selfishly at times; yet, they almost always come through in the end. Making it hard not to root for this caring family.
Netflix’s “Atypical” follows Sam (Keir Gilchrist), a high school senior, through his many adventures both at home and school. Watching Sam as he goes through his day, the show creator’s attempt to display the realities of autism. He is obsessed with penguins, bringing up his favorite topic in conversation even when it is not appropriate. He gets overwhelmed with loud noises, and sometimes acts out. Social queues are hard for him to interpret, and he struggles to connect with his fellow classmates.
Yet remarkably, there is so much about the show to which we can all relate. Just like most other 18-year-old males, he finds girls very attractive and desperately wants to date. He wonders whether he should date a fellow classmate, and struggles to interpret her requests at times. He falls for his therapist, just as so many of us fall for the wrong person at least once throughout our lives. Most of all, he wants to date; yet, finds the process of dating very frustrating. Sound familiar?
As the show unfolds, the material becomes all the more relatable. The sibling rivalry, played out between Sam and his sister Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine). We meet the parents, only to find out they, too, struggle with how best to provide for their children. As the series continues, this family morphs into the typical all-American family. They seem like the neighbors next door – fun and loving, struggling just like the rest of us to find their way in a complicated world.
None of this is meant to diminish the very real and unique challenges faced by persons with disabilities. Or to fail to acknowledge that both “Atypical” and “Speechless” inevitably fall short of fully depicting the experience, as do all television shows and movies. One looking for a show or film that fully captures the human experience is likely to turn up few results. Regardless, shows such as these suggest that as a society, perhaps we are getting closer to viewing persons with disabilities more holistically.
Taking the time to assign normal human emotions and desires to someone allows them to be seen for more than the one-dimensional attributes we typically assign to all we encounter. And while shows such as “Atypical” and “Speechless” are imperfect vehicles, perhaps they serve as a step in the right direction to building a more understanding culture. Offering the opportunity for us as individuals to bridge the gap.
So, the next time you encounter people with special needs, do your best to see them as human beings. People with hopes and dreams, fears and longings. See them for all they are, and all they plan to one day be.
After all, isn’t that how we all would like to be seen?
Samuel Moore-Sobel is a freelance writer. He is nearing publication of a memoir focusing on his experiences revolving around both trauma and recovery. Visit his website and blog,www.holdingontohopetoday.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.