So a week ago, on October 29th of 2015, my son was invited to the White House by Latinos in Social Media as one of the Top 10 Latino Tech Geniuses of the U.S. The other ten were there because they have created impressive projects, such as prosthetic arms, pollution fighters, advanced applications to facilitate human interaction, and much more.
In the case of my son, Emir, he walked to the White House pushing a small-wheeled backpack that carried a “scribbling robot”. This is a basic system, which is created with a 3v motor, a recycled box, and a couple of markers. This is nothing out of this world. Really, this is a child’s science and technology project.
For the first time in history, a person disability was part of such an honor. Emir was celebrated as an individual and had the opportunity to represent his community.
As you can imagine, the process to get inside the White House is exhausting: picture ID’s, questions, gates, security, and more gates. We were left behind rapidly, not because people didn’t want to walk with us, but because my children have a different pace.
My kids move slower by nature: they may get excited by simple things and decide to make an inevitable stop in order to examine what they consider truly important. On other occasions, they may decide that they don’t want to walk anymore, just because for them, the “big deals” are not as big as they are for the rest of the world.
Then, I wasn’t surprised when just two feet from the entrance, my son decided that he didn’t want to go to the White House anymore. In the middle of this confusing moment, let’s thank destiny or God or whatever powers that be, but the anti-narcotics White House dog showed up in the doorway, and my son got excited again. For most of the kids attending, the motivator was to get a chance to meet the President, the First Lady or the White House Executives. For my son and my daughter, who was with us as well, the motivator became to meet the doggie. They never imagined a dog could hold a job at the White House!
Finally, we made it into the White House.
The official who let us in was incredibly nice to us and the best part was, we got an autographed picture of the dog. Both of my children were incredibly happy about that. And again, I don’t know how that happened but it made it so easy for them to transition into that room full of people.
Another great thing was the Presidential chocolates: Kisses from Hershey’s. That was the next signal that everything was going to be alright. And then, the event started, and every child was invited to present his or her project. When the time came for my son to present his, he didn’t want to. I stepped in and explained to the audience that my son needed an accommodation at this time, and as his advocate and mother, I was going to take the lead and explain what he did and why he was there.
I am not going to lie about how challenging this was. I had to breathe deep a couple of times, and then I realized it, that moment was more a gift to me than it was to him. I finished the presentation by saying that due to his condition, Down syndrome, Emir is not always able to use his own voice but it’s my hope for him to keep learning and growing in order to become a self-advocate someday. When Emir was three years old, he was also diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. This explains his social anxiety and inability to deal with intense sensory stimulation or circumstances out of his routine. Nothing in our lives is easy, but it’s all so worth it.
Why then did we do this? Because as his mother, I will never give up on him. I would never deprive him of an opportunity like this one, even when I know that he may or may not feel as excited as other children would. I would never diminish his feelings just because they are expressed in a different way, and this is the way that Emir processes things, this is the way he deals with the world, this is Emir being Emir, and there he was… representing other children like him.
When the event concluded, one of the hosts approached Emir and invited him to chat about his project. He sat on the floor, and presented with the opportunity to have a one on one interaction, Emir said a couple of phrases about his work. And that was the real deal of the whole story; everything else was just a formality. He had a connection with someone important and he was made to feel just as important.
I am at a point in my life where I feel that we should not continue saying “Thank you for understanding,” when it comes to kids with special needs being honored and respected, but at the same time, I think I will never overcome this feeling of necessity to thank those who are willing to listen, to make a real difference, and to include them in a real way.
Thank you to the Technology Executives of the White House for this opportunity, but special thanks to Mario Cardona, White House Senior Policy Advisor, for giving Emir that simple but meaningful chance to create his own moment in his unique way.
Life is not about trying to change our children, but doing our best to overcome our mental limitations in order to understand that there are different ways to being capable, smart, and unique.
Thanks, Latinos in Social Media for opening the door to diversity, not only empowering our Latino Children to continue innovating in STEAM but for also including people with all abilities.