An Ovation for Laguna Kids
It is with a grateful heart that I put pen to paper. It’s a pleasure to write about an uplifting and positive issue, especially when it pertains to our kids. The youth of Laguna Beach are a special breed.
Let me preface my accolade. April is Autism Awareness month. Recently, the statistics for autism have shifted, offering a sobering and disturbing reality: 1 in every 88 children born will be afflicted by some aspect of the autism spectrum. Once it was 1 in 10,000 kids afflicted. It is considered an epidemic. Hopefully someone will find a cure or at least figure out what the heck went wrong.
Autism is quite personal for me. At 2 years of age, one of my twin sons was diagnosed with autism. He turns 13 soon and attends Thurston Middle School. Previously, he attended El Morro and Top of the World. We have had 10 years of experience in the Laguna Beach school district since Jake started at age 3. In all of those years, I have witnessed only two incidents where my special needs son was bullied. Only two!
I personally was beaten up, or threatened on the school bus or at the bus stop a multiple times a month, for many years. What was my crime? I liked to read, wear dresses and was a bit of a ‘Polly Prissy Pants,’ or so I was ridiculed and told. Somehow those differences were enough for the bullies to target me. One girl put me in a headlock and punched my head, giving me a concussion when I was 15. She was arrested and escorted out of high school.
Why the walk down memory lane?
I’ve watched the children of this town interact with my son and other special needs kids at school, at the playground and at the beach. I have observed compassion and kindness. I have been privy to watching tolerance at its finest. There have been moments that I have been brought to tears with gratitude. There have been countless days while waiting for Jake by Thurston’s front office that I watched kids greet him by name or with a high-five. His face would light up. He would tell me, “That’s my friend!”
Jake’s fraternal twin Sam often has multiple buddies at our house hanging out. His friends always take an interest in Jake, joining him around a computer as he plays his latest “Lego” stop-motion video. Sam’s friends patiently answer any and all of Jakes queries, never rushing him and always understanding Jake’s need for answers.
Most in town are familiar with the high school’s drama program. Jake attends every show and stands at the side door after a performance, with a Sharpie pen and program. As student actors exit they greet him by name. They always write something special in the show program. Last year for his birthday they had me bring him down to the high school as school let out. They all gathered and sang happy birthday to him. He was over the moon.
No one is telling these kids to do this. They could treat my son as if he is invisible, or with ridicule and cruelty. Some of the kids of my youth were not compassionate, caring or tolerant of anyone that was different. Whether it was a special needs kid or someone with a different skin color, if you were different the bullies would find you.
With a grateful heart I applaud kids who take a moment to discover the gifts of special needs kids! Instead of focusing on their oddity or being put off by their eccentricities, they instead allow themselves to discover their magic.
Kudos to Laguna’s parents, who have clearly taught their children well.
Kimberly O’Brien-Young is the mother of three sons and married to Ben Young, with whom she owns ADX Apparel Inc.