Introducing "I Choose Adam: Nothing Special Please"
This summer, our friend David Winstrom published the book, I Choose Adam: Nothing Special Please, about his son, Adam. I Choose Adam is about the magic of inclusion and creating a community where everyone is welcomed equally and without apology for their differences. David shares an introduction to their family's journey and the impact of Adam's life in the below post.
Adam was a remarkable person. I don’t know how to best tell you who Adam was.
He was my son whom I loved from the first moment I looked into his eyes and heard him take his first breath until the moment he looked back into my eyes and released his last breath.
And I love him still. When he was small, I used to hold him high and say, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased!” His connection to me was strong. His connection to God his Father was even stronger. His life was a gift to all who could embrace him. People often came at Adam to “help” him but quickly discovered that what they gave they received back tenfold because they became infected by the spirit of who Adam was.
The story I can tell is about how difficult it was to live in this world with my son Adam. In 1984, children with unique neurological anomalies such as Autism and Down syndrome scared people and challenged traditional systems. Schools in Michigan were still segregated 20 years after President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. Segregation was not based on race, it was based on genetics and mental acuity. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and friends as well as Jetta and I had to come to terms with our own interpretations and visions of what the world was intended to be. Was there room for divergent thinking children in our public schools? Would we welcome divergent people into our culture, our world, our neighborhood, our lives? Could our friends accept our having Adam and remain our friends? Choosing Adam compelled his mother Jetta and I to make those choices.
Once we decided we choose Adam and choose to support him and his right to be included in all aspects of our world, the world as Jetta and I knew it changed. It was the beginning of our lifelong struggle with our world to be allowed to include our son in all aspects of our life.
Every day having Adam as our son created situations that invited others to reconsider their basic belief systems. Is the world ready to celebrate differences? Is segregation going to continue to be the only choice to educate unique children? Is the possibility of living peacefully together in heart-to-heart relationships possible?
It appeared inclusion never seemed possible to most of the people we were surrounded by when Adam was young. Because Adam was different, we were encouraged to take advantage of the special alternative world.
There were all the kind protections they call “special.” And our family was told that we should be grateful for their efforts in “making protective programs so children like our son can have their own place” and “be with their own kind.” Their thinly veiled message was clear: We were no longer their kind of people. Segregation did not seem special to us. Their gift of special would isolate us and remove us from their life. It was illegal. It is immoral. For 20 years, segregation had been illegal ruled by the Supreme Court to be destructive and hurtful. It was immoral.
“The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
The professionals could not see Adam’s heart.They never knew his spirit. And many decided he was an expendable person, unworthy of their effort. Adam was a challenge for Jetta and I, but the educational and initial medical systems were a bigger challenge, oppressive and occasionally hostel. We found this out when we were in the middle of a due process hearing with a charter school although we did find our way through it all.
Barb Newman and others are hopeful that by reading Adam’s story you may gain some new understanding of how to cope, how to adapt and even how to alter the personal behaviors and societal responses that systematically alienate and disable unique people. As you read , I hope you will come to understand that behavioral changes are not one-sided; it is not just “them” who need changing. In telling Adam’s story, I will share many of the skills I had learned to create conditions for myself and others to peacefully live together. My hope is that you may discover Adam’s way. He took all I knew and added his own touch.
Adam’s technique was to find God in each new person he met; to seek, find, and nurture the best in each person until all they could do was become their best manifestation of God in the flesh.
As an adult, every next person became his friend. There was no escape. His world view was that we are all capable of friendship, kindness and mutual support. He surpassed his father to be more like his Father. The Scripture, “Whatever you neglected to do unto the least of these, you neglected to do unto Me” (Matthew 25:45) spoke to my heart about what was at stake. I am going to tell you about my life with Adam. Then I will let his community tell you who he was to them.
Adam had Autism; Autism never had him. He had Down syndrome; Down syndrome never had him. He was himself and was unique. He fully lived life.
When he was a youngster, the school and community tried to tell me what kind of a person he was and would be because “he was autistic” and a “Downs child.” Jetta and I never accepted their definition of our son. We never allowed external labels to eclipse Adam’s unique abilities and talents and personhood. He once told me he wished he was smarter because someone told him that being autistic meant he was ret…. I told him that being smart was not such a grand thing—that he would see the world differently, feel and experience it more completely, and understand other people’s feelings as well as they did. And so, he would have to work harder to be around other people. And if they were smart, they would discover the treasure of who Adam was and they would learn together what friendship really meant. Adam’s life was full and filled with many smart friends who learned from Adam.
To all of Adam’s community, thank you for loving him as much as I did and for accepting his love for you.