“Good for you, it takes a special person to do that. I could never do that." That's often the response you'll get if you're working in this field. But honestly, it doesn't make me any better of a person than someone going into accounting. I'm not someone who could sit behind a desk all day, but someone out there is. No, not everyone can work with this population, but not everyone can work with money and finance. I'm doing what I love, just as you are.

I love kids. I'm always the one who ends up with a mini crowd of them at family parties. It might be because I'm the oldest, or it could just be my nature. Regardless, it's something I don't get tired of easily. At a local public pool, when I was very young, I would sit and wait for the “people on the bus." I could never understand why parents would pull their kids out of the pool when they got there, they were the best people to play with! I would sit patiently with my mom as they wheeled down into the pool. Then, with a smile as her permission, I would jump into the water and play and talk to them for hours. I saw people turn away from them, or make rude comments, and it made me want to play with them even more. I knew they were a little different than me (they got to ride a bus here and some of them sat in a cool chair in the water) but they still wanted to play the same games as me, and they were always happy and laughing.

Happiness. That's my favorite thing about this population. They feel emotions in a way that so many of us do not. When something is funny, they laugh. And I mean, throw your head back laugh until you're crying, laugh. There isn't a feeling in this world like the one you get when you see the sparkle in their eye when something is wonderful or funny. They don't see “different". They don't see disabled, skin color, or religion. They see people as they are, good or bad (they will let you know loud and clear which one you are too). That's something I'll always admire about this population. They are so happy and eager once they open up. I'm not always their teacher or mentor in these situations, but they are mine. They teach you patience and to always smile. And they give the best, most honest advice. You might spend a week or two on the same lesson, but watching them learn and understand makes it worth it. To spend a week on the same lesson, and finally see the click, the missing piece of the puzzle piece fitting in, makes every single struggle worth it.

But with happiness come sadness and anger. And like their happiness, they feel it with their whole body. Anger might come with a thrown punch and a kick, or with biting and spitting. Probably all the things you wish you could do when you're mad. But that's something you understand is not socially acceptable, and they may not. Don't give moms that rude glare or comment when you're standing in the grocery store. Understand there is a difference between what you call a “brat" and a child with a disability. When something is triggered, it is shot hard, and it can't be bought or bribed off. It takes time, patience and understanding to calm them down.

Don't think that just because they are in a wheelchair or they are in the special education classroom, they don't understand. Just because they are in a wheelchair doesn't mean they are functioning at a lower level than their age. On the other hand, just because they are functioning at a level that is below their current age doesn't mean they don't understand, or can't learn. There are 13 disabilities under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), but the severity and needs can differ in every single one of them. Treat them with the same kindness and respect as you would anyone else. They are “there." They DO understand. And they can feel judgment just as you can. They can do almost anything, just as you can.

As my favorite saying goes: “The only true disability in life is a bad attitude."