Tears of Joy: A Yearbook Photo’s Impact – Finding Cooper’s Voice

There are quite a few stories in the news right now about kids with disabilities being excluded from events at school.

This happens every year. And as mom to a child with nonspeaking autism, reading them hurts. Because I know. I know what it feels like to have a misunderstood child. And feel like you don’t belong.

It’s an ache. It’s a deafening silence. It’s hope. It’s anger. Its frustration. It’s more.

I’m sharing this with you because something beautiful happened. Something I didn’t expect. And it has humbled me.

My son Cooper is in 7th grade. He is in a self contained classroom. He is with three or four other nonspeaking boys. He has a wonderful teacher and para and team.

And yet…it often feels like he’s been dropped into a building that he doesn’t belong in. When I walk the halls for IEP meetings I don’t see photos of kids like him on the walls. The flyers share about programs and sports and activities that he doesn’t participate in. And I wonder sometimes if anyone knows his name.

Reading the newsletter hurts sometimes too. I skim it but it doesn’t seem to pertain to him. Or us. And I wonder if it ever will.

This year I opted to not get a yearbook. I remember I stared multiple times at the email…wondering if I should order one. I agonized.

Because it hurts. It hurts when he’s not included on any of the pages because he doesn’t do the things the other kids do. And a few years ago, his photo was stuck in with a different class and it angered me.

I was told that the photos of the kids with disabilities were put in with the case managers classes…even though Cooper spent no time in the classroom. It broke me in the oddest way. I pictured kids laughing…pointing to the photo…wondering who that kid was.

Silly? Maybe. But it’s my truth.

A few days ago, my friend Shannon text me the photo below. Cooper and his two best friends are on the first page of the yearbook.

It was twin day. They were the three amigos, proudly wearing their Miracle League baseball shirts.

I cried. And I’m crying now. And I will probably cry again.

A photo of three friends.

It seems so simple. And yet it’s everything.

See, they matter. These three kids are smart and funny and loving and wonderful.

I am so thankful to whomever picked their photo for the yearbook.

It healed a little part of me that is broken by our educational journey. It keeps us moving forward.

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook.


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