Embracing your disability

February 17, 2019

“My son is a wonderful guy.” How many parents describe their kids like this? I would bet almost all of them. Especially when we are trying to chat up another parent who may have a single daughter with similar values and we are attempting to be a catalyst for a potential relationship.

Most parents want to become grandparents. It is difficult if your child can’t seem to find the right match. Many of them use internet applications. Full disclosure — I did after my divorce and it worked.

Starting new relationships from 25 years old to 65 years old is a challenge. Can you imagine a son with Down syndrome or intellectual or developmental disabilities?

I have met a lot of professionals over the years who believe there should be a “special needs match” application created solely for the use of people with developmental disabilities. I don’t think they need it. We live in an age where meeting people organically doesn’t seem to happen very frequently anymore. Meeting people organically is less the norm because we use our phones and lap tops.

Many people with developmental disabilities do not seem to succumb to the almighty app. The people I know with developmental disabilities seem to forge relationships the old fashion way — organically or through friends and families.

My nonprofit supports a man and a woman, who both have significant developmental disabilities and who were focused on eventually getting married. In spite of regulatory authorities from state government creating unnecessary hurdles, the natural decision was reached, and they were allowed to pursue their dreams of being a married couple.

Despite both of them being hearing impaired, they communicated loudly through sign language in the most beautiful and loving way. Even if they were only saying something like “pass the ketchup,” it seemed like something profound was being exchanged. With each communication sign, you could feel the love and tenderness between the both of them.

My personal experience is that many persons with developmental disabilities want to engage with each person they meet, share their stories and build a larger foundation and network, like we all do but seem to have forgotten how to do. Maybe those of us without disabilities should take a lesson. Take a lesson in the manner in which people with developmental disabilities love and are wholly present in their interactions. They have no hidden agenda and believe it or not most of the friends I meet do not have issues with self-esteem or self-image. They know how to embrace the spirit of love.

In my life, I have not witnessed a more pure and real love than that which I have seen in the people with developmental disabilities I’ve supported over the years. Theirs is unconditional love not burdened by unrealistic expectations and devoid of drama. Maybe we should learn something from those we feel so necessary to protect.

Robert Stack is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Community Options Inc., a national nonprofit organization that has been supporting people with developmental disabilities for 30 years.