A few years back a woman came to our neighborhood picnic with her son, who has severe autism. He sat down to eat, but quickly got perturbed by something and soon was screaming and flailing. She apologized, explained his autism and they left. I remember feeling so sorry for her but having NO IDEA what to say or do. Sort of a social paralysis.
Flash forward to last Sunday. Same picnic, same woman, same son - but this year she left him home with a caregiver. I joined her in the food line to ask about her son and whether she had watched the "Autism Now" series on PBS a couple weeks back. We started chatting about Sensory Processing Disorder and schools and she offered to share her volumes of knowledge - and house full of SPD gadgets - with me. Cool.
It didn't strike me until later how I couldn't have had that conversation before Quinn came into my life. I didn't have the knowledge, obviously, but I also didn't have any level of comfortable with the subject or, really, any understanding of the challenges and joys of her life.
Once again, I find myself immeasurably grateful to Quinn for opening my eyes to new parts of the world and teaching me about things I didn't know existed. My life is better because of him, and I am a better person for having met him.
To me, that's one of the surprises of parenting a child with special needs. You learn. You grow. Your world expands. And how awesome is that?