(Description of top image: A young boy with brown hair and a smile on his face leaning his head lovingly against his mom, who has awesome purple hair and is wearing a “Panic! At the Disco” shirt.)
This is what advocacy looks like. I recently had the privilege to meet this exceptional young man who is going to change the world. Actually, he is already changing the world.
It was a hot summer day so I took my two children to a local sprayground. We brought some toys to play with in the water, including a bright beach ball. My youngest son and I tried several times to get the bach ball to float on top of the water jets that came out of the ground, but we weren’t having much luck. Another little boy came over and started trying to help, striking up a conversation with me in the process. His name was Xander. My own son got bored and walked away, but my new friend and I kept trying, laughing at each failed attempt. Finally, after several tries, we accomplished our goal and let out a cheer.
Soon after we were able to get the ball in the air, however, Xander’s little brother knocked it down. He obviously enjoyed manipulating the water flow and watching the ball fall to the ground. Again. And again. And again. His fun was different from the one we had in mind, but he was still having fun.
His repetitive, single-minded behavior seemed familiar to me. What was even more familiar was the fact that he was so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t seem to his hear his older brother when he protested, “Stop!”
“Sorry about that,” Xander apologized, “He’s ADHD.”
I braced myself for what was going to come next, because I mistakenly thought that he was about to disparage his brother and his behavior. As the mother of an autistic child, and as a neurodivergent individual myself, I get sad when I hear family members talking down to or about their loved one.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Xander continued talking, “He’s not a bad kid, he’s just ADHD. He doesn’t hear me when I talk to him. Well, he can sometimes hear me, but he processes differently. He’s, like, a Windows phone in an Android world.”
“I get it!” I replied.
“You do?” Xander asked, incredulously. “I’m glad you get it. Some people don’t understand. They think he’s a bad kid, but he’s just different. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. But one time some people called the police on us. They don’t get it.”
Other people may not “get it,” but it was obvious that young Xander did. It was also obvious that he was being raised in a household where acceptance was actively taught. I stood there listening to him wishing I had a photographic memory. I wanted to remember exactly every word this remarkable young man said to me. His way of speaking about his brother was so incredibly heartfelt and supportive that it made my heart and my eyes swell. I was amazed that he had the bravery to talk to an adult to explain and support his brother. He cared very much about making sure that I understood his brother and didn’t judge him unfairly.
More than once I heard Xander say, “He’s just different, but there’s nothing wrong with that.” As he kept talking I became increasingly emotional, and was really glad I had my sunglasses on so he couldn’t see me ugly crying. (In case you don’t know what an ugly cry is, it’s that thing that happens to your face when you are so overwhelmed by emotion that it gets all uncontrollably scrunched up. Like James Van Der Beek on “Dawson’s Creek.” Sometimes it can be because of sadness, but for me it happens most often because of joy.)
This kid was AWESOME, and I decided I wanted to do something about it. “Xander, I DO get it! I have a little boy who has a unique brain too, and I am so glad that there are people like you out there to help support and accept him. Your brother is lucky to have you! Where is your mom?”
“HE is over there,” Xander stated pointedly, gesturing towards a group of mothers who were sitting together at a picnic table and chatting.
I paused for a moment, “Let me make sure I understood you correctly. Your mom is he? Your mom is trans?”
Xander seemed to visibly relax, and said with relief, “Yes, you get it! Not a lot of people do! You’re a good person.”
“No, YOU’RE a good person, Xander!” I responded. “That’s why I want to talk to your mom.” I then walked up to the group and asked, “Is this your son?”
Xander’s mom, Tyler, replied nervously, “Yes?”
“I just wanted to tell you that your son is INCREDIBLE. He is out there advocating for, like, EVERYTHING. As the mom of a little boy who is autistic I really appreciate it and wish the world had more people like him.”
Tyler burst into surprised, happy tears at my words, saying, “THANK YOU!” He said they had all just experienced an incredibly difficult morning, so hearing kinds words about his son was incredibly encouraging.
Another member of the group told me later that when I first approached them they were afraid I was upset about something that one of their children did. They were all relieved to find out it was just the opposite, and that heightened the emotion of our encounter.
I started to cry too, and continued, “I wanted to tell you that you are obviously doing a good job. In many of his words it was obvious that he was repeating what you had taught him. Things like, ‘He is a Windows phone in an Android world,’ means that you have explained things, and taught him about acceptance and how to stand up for his brother. I’m thankful for both of you!”
Tyler smiled, still crying, “I’m glad that analogy stuck with him!”
At that point I asked permission to hug him, and we both sat there and cried for a bit. The group of friends cried some, too. We were a laughing, weepy mess.
Xander then joined us, and his mom hugged him and told him how proud he was to have such a caring son.
We talked a bit about how important it is to speak with children in a matter-of-fact way about neurodiversity and disability, teaching them early about acceptance. I mentioned that, starting in 1st grade, we have had a discussion about autism with my son’s classmates each year. It has helped foster a nurturing, understanding environment, and the other children have actively sought to support him throughout the years.
I asked permission to take a picture and share this story, and Xander at first was unsure because he might have “stage fright.” We explained that, if he was comfortable, all he had to do was smile for a picture and give me permission to write about how awesome he is. Xander agreed.
Xander’s brother is also awesome, in case you are concerned that this post’s main focus is on Xander and not Jaime. I want to be clear that I do not wish to objectify a neurodivergent person in an attempt to elevate his neurotypical older brother in some sort of inspiration-porn type of move. The reason I didn’t write more about Jaime is simply because he was busy having fun doing his own thing and I never had a chance to talk with him. (If you don’t know what “inspiration porn” is I encourage you to visit this link. It is the best article I have ever read on the subject.)
Also, what Xander is doing is not some one-off good deed where he gets to feel good about himself and then go on with his little life. What he does daily is true advocacy. Xander is sincere and supportive and actively seeks to educate those around him about being accepting of differences. He is always ready to step in to defend and support his neurodivergent brother, and also his trans mother. I am incredibly glad that I met him and the rest of his family.
This child who has lived on this earth a mere 10 years has a social conscience and sense of personal responsibility that some adults NEVER develop. Xander is making the world a better place for the marginalized, and I feel better knowing that there are people like him out there.
Thank you, Xander. You rock!
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