The day of my son Lincoln’s elementary school council election I received a call from a major news network ‘s producer who was interested in doing a story about him. She had gotten word about the outpouring of support on my facebook page, the hundreds of likes and comments cheering my son on for his bravery to run for president and for his courageous speech.
I was touched.
My son has special needs, a rare syndrome called Prader Willi Syndrome, and his speech discussed how he recently saw a movie about a girl with Down Syndrome who won prom queen. Before seeing this he had not realized that people with special needs could do something like that. In his speech, he declared that he wanted to stand up for all the kids at school to show them that a person with special needs could run and win the presidency. His platform also included that he wanted to stop bullying in the school and on the school buses, suggesting that someone lead the kids in games and songs so that they could have fun with each other instead of poking fun at each other. It was a heartwarming story for the news: “Local boy with special needs runs for President and wins!”
The catch, however, was that in order for them to do the story, he had to win the Presidency. Otherwise the story would be “anticlimactic”.
I understand the world of media with all it’s sensationalism, the big moment leading up to the predictable story ending, the victorious win with the huge ear to ear smile by the winner. That’s not what this story was about to us, however, the people who live in the real world with children with special needs.
I tried to gently sway the producer why even if Lincoln lost it would be a great story to share. I explained that it was the process, not the actual winning that would be the story. That if she thought out of the box, this was a deep and meaningful lesson because his speech got his school and the town talking about special needs with their children. How his speech, so confidently and enthusiastically delivered, inspired and amazed not only the special services coordinator, the principal, the teachers, the social workers, the therapists with whom he works but more importantly, the students.
I explained to the producer that before the election, Lincoln never wanted to admit to anyone that he had special needs but he felt strongly that he now wanted to represent people who were different. I told her how his sister, Asa, who is a year younger and often frustrated by Lincoln, believed in him so much that she and her friends became his campaign managers. They rallied for him through the halls, even when a few people made fun of him, saying that no one liked him and that he would never win.
If the producer had chosen to do the story, I would have told her about the painful aftermath of the election when he did not win. I would have recounted the details of how Lincoln sobbed and screamed and wouldn’t leave the school nurse’s office floor for a half hour after the results were given (regulating emotions for a child with his syndrome is extremely challenging).
I would have told her that I texted my friend, also with a child with special needs, to give her son the heads up that Lincoln would not be joining him for their weekly gym class because he was too upset from losing the election.
Now this is where the producer may have changed her mind about accepting the pitch. This is the tear-jerking storyline she was looking for!:
My friend promptly wrote back that her son had returned from school crying for an hour because he felt lonely. She asked that I try to get Lincoln to go to class because it would make her son feel better if they could see each other and talk.
I showed the text to Lincoln and he stopped crying. Lincoln loves helping people. He said he didn’t feel up to going to the class but that he would see his friend after the gym.
He said “Maybe we could both talk about our bad day together”.
Lincoln did go meet him and they did indeed talk. They supported each other and it was a clear demonstration that Lincoln was true to the words of his speech; he wanted to be there for people in need and in return, his good works and karma allowed him to get the support he needed with kind words from a friend.
I don’t blame the producer, she was doing her job. Who knows, she may have feared she would have gotten fired for a bad fluff piece. We all know these are tough times in the work place. I do wish, however, that the media would have been as courageous as my son was, to stand up for something that was right, even though it was risky.
Maybe his speech was heard by even one child in that school assembly who will grow up to be a producer. Perhaps he or she will go out on a limb to spread the word that we all have something to learn by being brave, and that it’s not about whether we win or lose. The day after the election when Lincoln was too embarrassed to go to school, I had him read the hundreds of comments of support from his friends all over town, all over the country and even from as far as Japan, Italy and Argentina. He listened to us tell him he was a leader and leaders don’t have to win elections to be powerful and inspiring. We told him how the people who voted for him would want to congratulate him for his great campaigning.
Although ultimately it was the two pieces of Halloween candy in his lunch box that finally gave him the push he needed to face the crowds of voters, he left for school on the bus with his sister. He was afraid but brave. A happy ending.
But the story’s not over! And here is the surprise ending, the twist that makes it the exciting kind of tale that everyone loves!
When I finished writing this piece, I plugged in my phone which had died. A text popped up immediately letting me know that the producer decided she was still interested in doing the story, even though Lincoln had lost the election.
Well I’ll be damned if we can’t change the world just a little bit at a time. We can all be winners.
Alma Schneider is Lincoln’s mom.