Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Understanding Our Differences

One of the very great joys of my recent trip to Boston was seeing old friends, some that I hadn't seen in years. I loved it. From the first words they said, I remembered why we were friends--remembered why I was drawn to them in the first place. I could be fully honest with them in a way that's sometimes not easy for me, and I relished it. I felt full and thankful.

I also had a lovely evening at an event sponsored by Understanding Our Differences, a group dedicated to increasing awareness and communication between disabled and non-disabled schoolchildren. I got to try a Brailler, which is essentially a Braille typewriter--it's not easy, there are only 6 buttons, but you have to push up to four simultaneously. I got to try to button a shirt one-handed using a button puller. But I also got to speak: I was, in fact, the main show. My book TWTSML won the Schneider Family Book Award for disability representation (actually I co-won with Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish In A Tree--and she was UOD's speaker last year) this year, though I've never known precisely why, because my main character has two disabilities, one physical, and one mental. She was born with a clubfoot that went untreated (clubfoot should be a birth defect but not a disability) and she's been abused to the point of suffering from PTSD.

I have chronic PTSD myself, and I tend to think of Ada's problems as more mental than physical, though the physical issues are what most people concentrate on. I also think we don't talk nearly enough about mental health issues, especially in children. As I told the UOD crowd, the second-highest cause of death in children ages 10 to 14 is suicide. We need to be aware of that; we need to work like hell to lower in. We need to pay attention to children who are suffering. They're not necessarily just shy. They won't necessarily grow out of it.

Yesterday I got a heartfelt email from a young reader. The child wanted to know, essentially, if I had suffered too. If it was okay to be inspired by my character, if I was telling the truth because I knew it fundamentally. If I was trustworthy. Because if I was, then maybe the message of hope in my book could be trusted too.

Absolutely, I said. Absolutely to all of that.

This is why we write: to know we are not alone.