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“How many doors will suddenly close as we go down the hall today?”

“How many stares will we get along the way?”

“What if he stops to squeal, make his loud noises or stomp his feet so forcefully every few steps?”

“Please let us make it out of the building today without any hurtful incidents.”

Our son’s Comprehensive Development Classroom was at the very end of what I was convinced was the longest hallway in any school. Despite my son’s cerebral palsy and autism, we felt it was important for his developing motor skills for my wife to hold onto him and allow him to walk down that hall to and from his classroom every day, with her assistance.

Some days it was absolutely agonizing.

Some days it was arduous.

Some days it was heartbreaking.

In our household, autism seems to introduce itself at the worst possible moments.

While at the drive-in window.

While at a restaurant.

While walking down the hallway from the school’s entrance to my son’s classroom.

My wife would count the number of teachers who suddenly closed their own classroom doors shut as she and my son slowly made the trek down the hallway. She could feel the stares, the glares, and the fear in her own heart every day. Some days, fear would slip into the car and ride along like a passenger on the drive to school, whispering in her ear the entire time.

She wished more people understood. She wished more people would take the time to learn and understand what was happening.

My son was making happy noises. He was expressing his excitement, his joy and his genuine pleasure when he made those sounds. They were the only way he could express himself.

At the end of each day, when he would see his mother open the door to the classroom and call his name, he would squeal with delight. He would gingerly raise his arms, crippled by cerebral palsy, and hug her neck. As she lifted him up into her arms, he would kiss her cheek over and over.

Mother and son with a bond that defied any fear, any pre-dispositions, any attempt by the world to undermine it.

I call it his “happy dance.”

Beth is one of those teachers whose classroom my wife and son walked by with dread for so many years. She heard my son’s loud noises, and felt his yelps echoing off the hallway’s walls. She listened to his feet stomping every few feet.

But instead of closing her classroom door, she opened her classroom door.

This is what she told my wife.

“Once I learned that he was squealing when he heard your voice, it just made my day to hear him. He loves you so much and he is so blessed to be yours and he knows it! I had to open my door just so I could hear it.”

With eyes wide open, and her heart then wide with love, she opened her door to grace and understanding.

As parents of children with special needs, we have been given gifts. Too often we try to hide those gifts. Too often we make excuses or try to explain ourselves. We become defensive or defeated.

My son’s “happy dance” is an example of how that even though our pain runs so deep as special-needs parents, our purpose runs even deeper. His expressions are a gateway to grace and understanding.

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We have a choice. Our circumstances do not define us. We can choose instead to be defined by the way we respond to our circumstances. When we rise above our circumstances with grace, dignity, and pride, our sojourn impacts, inspires, and teaches others around us.

We can choose to hide behind closed doors, closed hearts, and closed minds. Or we can choose to open the doors and proudly display our gift to the world.

Sometimes you may need to unwrap your gift right in the middle of the hallway.

This post originally appeared on Not Alone.

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