"School pictures are in! Please click the link below to see your child's school photos."
My husband and I, along with the other parents at Justice's school, received a notification in our parent portal, letting us know that school pictures had arrived. I couldn't wait to see Justice's sweet face! Last month, on picture day, I dressed him in a new pair of Levi skinny jeans, a crisp grey thermal, and his Jordan 1s. He looked cute as could be. Man Man, as we call him, was super fresh!
Seconds within receiving that message, I excitedly clicked the link and began scrolling, looking for Justice's school picture.
I couldn't help but giggle, thinking about Justice's pictures, because as I was scrolling, I saw so many adorably happy faces. I was wowed, too, because each child had about five photos to choose from, which was a really nice touch on the school's behalf.
Finally, I reached the end of album, and there were two photos of Justice -- both profile shots with his shirt above his belly, looking at the ground.
"This can't be it," I said to myself in confusion.
To be sure I didn't miss any other photos, I scrolled again. I usually jump the gun, so I tried to keep my mom's calming voice in my head, and, instead, wait to react.
However, as I scrolled for a second and third time, I realized there was no front-facing photo of Justice, no candid shots like the other kids, and no photos on the playground like the other kids received.
I was enraged.
I was devastated.
I was hurt.
Immediately, I started to cry. You know those hot, angry tears that form from pure rage? Those were pouring from my eyes. When I'm sad, I usually fall silent, but when I'm angry, I cry. Today, I cried. It was a cry from deep in my heart, a cry I couldn't hold back.
A few moments later, after gathering myself together (kind of), I wiped my tears, signed into the school's parent portal, and began typing:
There isn't a single shot of Justice, face forward, only at his side. In one photo, his shirt is above his belly. I understand our son faces challenges, but these photos are extremely disheartening. To think that our child doesn't have one school photo, it's as if he was disregarded because of his challenges! Please remove these from your site. This is deeper than a photo. This shows us, as Justice's parents, that he is treated as less than, as if to say, "Screw this kid! He doesn't know what's going on anyway." It's heartbreaking.
My husband, on the other hand, wasn't as "diplomatic."
"My daughter could have taken this! You mean to tell me everyone got a face shot but my son? That's ridiculous! If the photographer didn't have the patience, that's on them. I'm definitely going to speak to someone about this."
Usually, I'm the firecracker, but my husband stepped in and went to bat for us while I was too upset to articulate my anger.
You see, Justice attends a sensory-sensitive school, meaning they are fully equipped to navigate his challenges. In the photo, Justice wasn't crying or angry. He was calm. I checked to see if he had tears on his cheeks, in the event he was protesting the photos, but he didn't... which meant, yes, he was disregarded, shoved along, and treated as unimportant.
This was about more than a picture - this was one of my fears coming to life in tangible form.
People always say "I'm so sorry" when they discover Justice is non-verbal and ASD, but we aren't sorry, not at all. We love our child and every cell within his precious body. He was made with purpose, and he is truly exceptional. What saddens me is not his diagnosis; it's the way people will treat him knowing the challenges he faces. I've always told my family and close friends that I fear the day someone takes advantage of him, teases him, and treats him as less than.
This photo incident encompassed a piece of my fear.
I have a solution (kind of), and the solution I'm about to present may seem cliche or ineffective, but as the mother of a child with challenges, I assure you, this suggestion is far more valuable than you think. Here it goes: Please, please teach your child to be kind. Teach your child to be gentle and patient. If we teach our children the importance of kindness and patience, they will grow into kind and patient adults. Had Justice's picture day been with a kind and patient adult, we would have seen a photo that captured our son's essence -- a smiley, joyful little boy with so much love in his heart, always searching for an adventure.