The Thanksgiving Play Microphone Grab Viewed Around The World
Guest post by Dreama Denver
As the mother of a severely autistic son, I know how badly a mother’s heart yearns to see her child treated with respect and some semblance of normalcy even when he’s different. I also understand autistic behaviors and how disruptive they can be.
My husband, television actor Bob Denver (“Gilligan” in Gilligan’s Island, “Maynard G. Krebs” in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) understood the challenges that special needs families face so well that he literally walked away from a very successful Hollywood career in order to be by my side to care for our son Colin. For over two decades until Bob passed in 2005, my husband was Colin’s biggest champion. His role as a father was far more important to him than any other role television, movies or theatre could hope to offer.
So, when I, like millions of others saw the video on social media of the teacher at an elementary school in West Virginia pulling the microphone away from a little autistic boy at the end of the school’s Thanksgiving play, I felt an immediate combination of sadness and anger. My “mother/protector” instinct kicked in immediately, much as it did for the countless others who commented on the video. But, viewing only the 15 or 20 seconds that most people saw doesn’t give a clear picture of the incident. After tracking down the entire 15 minute video, it’s apparent that the little boy was indeed allowed to fully participate with the other children, and I applaud his teacher and the school for that. It was also clear that he wandered the stage a bit, unable to totally focus on the task at hand, which is not unusual for an autistic child, or any young elementary school-age child for that matter. As parents, we want our children to ‘fit in’, we want them to have friends and experiences that give them a sense of self and their worth in the world. Parents of autistic children are no different, and I’m grateful that this precious little guy had the chance to be “one of the kids”.
Bob and I spent over twenty years caring for our son Colin, and I know first hand that providing care for a special needs child 24/7/365 is a daunting task, but one that makes you a better person for the experience. Our son’s worth was always apparent to us and our family, even though he was nonverbal and “different”. To an outsider looking in, that worth may have been a mystery, but here’s what I can tell you about differences; they should be celebrated!
Had our son been what society deems normal, I’m not sure I would know unconditional love in its purest form. We loved with no expectation of having it returned in any kind of normal way, and that only made us love harder. Colin taught us patience and gratitude for the smallest victories, gave us strength we never knew we had, not to mention a profound understanding of the miracle of the human body and the blessing of having a child whose parts work the way they were designed to work.
We, as a society, are defined by the way we treat the weakest among us. So how can we sit in judgement of a child who, through no fault of his own, is different? I can tell you from personal experience these children know when they’re being made to feel less than normal. Why would we ever want to diminish another human being? It takes so little effort to show kindness and understanding, so little effort to give someone hope that they too can be included.
I don’t personally know anyone involved in this incident or the behavioral history of this adorable little boy. Maybe the teacher had good reason to be wary of what he might say his last time at the microphone. The previous time he said, ‘ouch, ouch’, maybe that was part of the script, maybe not. Maybe the teacher made a split second decision that she wishes she could take back. How many of us have made a bad decision on the fly that we’ve regretted later? Maybe every elementary school Thanksgiving pageant in America goes off the rails to a certain extent, and that’s what makes them so adorable and memorable. Teachers of special needs kids are by and large incredibly warm, caring individuals who have chosen a career path that’s often much tougher than that of their colleagues in education. I support and thank them for stepping up; special adults who help special children deserve a special place in heaven as far as I’m concerned.
What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for the fact that this special little soul was included in the school’s Thanksgiving pageant at all. There was a time not too long ago that he would have been kept from participating. I HOPE there was a valid reason for not letting him say his last line; that’s my Thanksgiving wish.
Dreama Denver is a former television and stage actress who was selected by Roy Disney to be in the original cast of 40 at Disney World. She met Bob Denver when they were cast aopposite one another in a play, and spent nearly 30 years together until Bob’s untimely passing in 2005. The Denver Foundation was formed by Bob and Dreama to help the families of special needs children. Dreama’s book “Gilligan’s Dreams” chronicles their life together in Hollywood and then as parents to their special needs child. It’s available at https://www.amazon.com/Gilligans-Dreams-Dreama-Denver/dp/1479320005 and wherever great books are sold. Find out more at www.bobdenver.com.