Updated: Apr 26, 2022
As April is a time when the world speaks of "autism awareness," and as I prepare for a couple presentations this weekend, one for educators, and one in celebration of siblings of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I reflect on my relationship with Joaquin over the years and how much he has taught me.
I hold so much gratitude in my heart for him: for his patience; for his drive to communicate his needs; for all the effort he puts into trying to be in control of his body, and into demonstrating his competence and love. He is extraordinary. He is exquisite.
I chose to be an educator to help change the narrative about people with disabilities, and to demonstrate the difference societal inclusion can make.
I may not have chosen to be a sibling. But I choose to recognize my privilege and to be an advocate for, and ally to, and supporter of someone born with many societally-enforced disadvantages.
I have chosen to take Joaquin's teachings, and the teachings of so many other disabled people, and frame them with engraved gold, and jewels. Painfully lasered, scorched, and re-molded gold, with years of experiences, sometimes sharp, sometimes fiery, and always delicate. These ridges and turns create a magnificent pattern that could grace a palace wall. If I look closely, I will notice that the sharp turns and jagged cuts indicate times when Joaquin's needs did not match our understanding of him; times when we did not speak his language; and times when society made him wrong and did not welcome him, and abandoned and abused him. And the tarnished, black areas represent the rage and trauma of not having a voice, while burning with desire for human dignity, acceptance, appreciation, and inclusion.
I focus now on the brilliant gemstones that landscape the frame: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. They are the people who brought hope and love just as they were needed. For they have certainly been needed. Over and over. The gems are the moments of amazing grace. They are the explorations, the looking beyond ourselves and our understandings. They are the awakenings to our misunderstandings and to the beauty and richness of the unknown. They are the ensuing peace within, for our family, and for Joaquin.
And what is encased by my frame? It is not a puzzle. It is a glorious masterpiece that only those with open hearts and minds can see.
To learn about Joaquin's journey from institutionalization to community living, watch Diana's TEDx Talk here. Or listen to her podcast interview on the Think Inclusive Podcast here. Diana is an educator, speaker, author, and podcast host of Beyond Awareness: Disability Awareness That Matters.
For Diana's free resource for educators, The 5 Keys to Going Beyond Awareness, click here.