By Shayla Hearn
If you ever get a chance to hang with Finley, you may notice that she sometimes “looks” at you peripherally. Particularly when the situation is intense. Doctors have asked us to work with Finley to “let us see her eyes” to help facilitate communication. And this has always bothered me. I fight it every time I hear it. What I want to do instead is ask her, “Finley are you hearing what I am saying?” Because that is what matters most – is she able to listen in that moment. Sure, common social rules dictate that eye contact is a non-verbal form of communication we all readily understand. It conveys listening and attention. But that doesn’t mean it is the only way.
What if forcing her to make eye contact makes it more difficult for her to listen? Then I have defeated the purpose. And probably confused her and made her self-conscience. What if looking at me from the side allows her to drown out some of the overwhelming sensory input that can come with direct eye contact and allows her to listen? Why in the world would I ever want to change that?
The answer is, I don’t. And I won’t.
I accept Finley as she is. It is not my job to change her. It is my job to get to know her.
It is not my job to force her to blend in with the world around her. Despite what some may think, even with the best of intentions, I cannot follow that logic to its conclusion and see how that will do her any good. I see harm. I cannot imagine conveying to a child that who you are isn’t acceptable and doesn’t meet the world’s narrow expectation of who you should be. That feels confusing and shaming.
I will teach her that some people may not readily understand some of what comes naturally to her. I will teach her what people may expect and how it may differ from her norm. I will teach her what the outcome may be, both to her and the world around her, when she choose to flex and adapt and when she doesn’t. And I will help her learn how to cope with whatever she decides to do.
It is up to her how, when, and if she chooses to adapt or change. And if she chooses not to, I will help her be confident in who she is and how to show others that sometimes different is just fine.
Photo credit: Shayla Hearn
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