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Back in the nineteen-seventies when I was in grade school, kids with special needs usually went to a different school than children without special needs. When I was in fifth grade there was one boy, Kenny, in my class who was diagnosed as hyperactive. Kenny sat a seat or two behind me and would constantly kick the seat in front of him, drum on the desk, occasionally touch one of the other kids, and once in a while say something in the middle of class. All of the kids tried to avoid Kenny because we weren’t used to seeing kids with disabilities and Kenny was very disruptive.

One day the school psychologist called me out of my math class. “Do you know Kenny?” He asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“Kenny listens to you. I need you to help Kenny follow the rules and settle down in class.”

“Okay. I’ll try.” I said.

My heart sunk when I went back to class. If I befriended Kenny the other kids would make fun of me. I didn’t know what the adults expected me to do. I also wondered why Kenny picked me out of everyone in class to say he would listen to me.

After that day, when Kenny would kick the chair of the student in front of him, or start drumming loudly on his desk, I would say, “Stop it, Kenny.”

I tried to help without giving too much attention or kindness to Kenny. I didn’t want to be seen as someone who liked him, or wanted him as a friend.

Over forty years later, I am an adult woman with schizophrenia and every time someone posts about my diagnosis on one of my social media accounts many people unfriend me. I can only assume people don’t want to hang out or be seen with the woman with special needs.

If I could go back to fifth grade, I would pull up a chair beside Kenny and hold his hands to help him keep them still. I would talk to him, and eat lunch with him in the cafeteria. I would be a friend to him even if the other kids made fun of me (especially if the other kids made fun of me).

This schizophrenia has given me radical compassion and radical acceptance. I can’t be sorry for that. I just can’t. If there is someone uniquely-abled in your life, I encourage you to embrace them, because if you don’t, you may one day be filled with a sense of regret and a missed opportunity to love and that is always tragic and deeply painful.