I have to admit, when she signaled that she wanted to ask me a question, I sighed inside. It felt like we had been riding a wave of Collin interactions ranging from uncomfortable to hurtful. Lots of "What's wrong with him?" and "Please list everything he will and won't be able to do for the rest of his life."
But when I kneeled down so I could hear her over the splashing and yelling, she said, "Can I ask you: how would you prefer me to talk to my grandkids about your son?"
I looked over at Collin. His hair stood up in a dripping fin and his face shone with the joy of being weightless in the water. The woman's red haired grandchildren crowded close around him and the aquatherapist, glued to his every move as they tried to figure out what exactly they were seeing.
"Would you use the word 'special'?" she went on. "Would you say he has special needs? Is that a term you're comfortable with?"
I may have visibly expanded with gratitude. This woman knew that words were important. She could have said anything she wanted without me ever knowing, but she knew it mattered how she talked about Collin. It mattered for her grandkids, for Collin, and for me.
I told her to tell them that his name is Collin. That he has disabilities which, for him, means that a lot of the things other kids his age can easily do, he can't do yet.
Her grandson had sidled up quietly. "Like swimming?" he asked.
I smiled. "No, actually he's really good at swimming. It's other things like talking and walking he has trouble with."
He nodded and returned to Collin. I introduced them. They were both six years old. And, like some kind of soaking wet miracle, the little boy reached out and they shook hands.