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You’re worth what you’re worth.

photoI feel like I touch on this topic so often that Support for Special Needs should either get someone else to write for them or just call my weekly essay “Rob Rummel-Hudson Craps His Pants In Terror Over The Future”. It might be getting old for some of you, and I apologize if that’s the case.

But at the same time, it’s also the thing I get the most comments about, both on the posts themselves and in emails. There are a lot of parents worrying about what’s going to happen to their kids down the road. If someone were to do a poll of our anxieties, I suspect that’s the white whale that haunts and obsesses many of us most of all.

A quick look at the news with an eye towards disability issues is enough to feed that whale. It occasionally feels like we’re making a little progress towards a society that doesn’t assign worth to those with disabilities, but rather recognizes the inherent value in any human being. In every human being.

And then.

And then we learn that Goodwill is exploiting labor law so they can get away with paying its workers with disabilities as little as twenty-two cents an hour. And just last week, in the course of a story on The Daily Show, of all places, economist and author Peter Schiff says, into a camera pointing at his face that I presume had a little light on the front indicating that it was on, that the “mentally retarded” should earn about two dollars an hour. “I’m not going to say that we’re all created equal,” he said. “You’re worth what you’re worth.”

That last part is true enough, though. We’re really not all created equal. I don’t know anyone who works harder or through as many obstacles, some unavoidable but many unnecessary, as Schuyler does. In my experience, she has no equal in her ability to stay positive, despite a brain that she perhaps rightly believes doesn’t like her, or a school that doesn’t always know how to teach her, or a peer group that doesn’t understand how to be her friend, or what a perfect friend she could be. I know of no one on this earth as uninterested in giving up as my daughter is. She perseveres, in ways that really do invoke that forbidden word, “inspiration”.

Her laugh is unequalled. Her dreams are bigger and bolder than anyone I know. And if you try to assign a dollar value to her worth, particularly if that value is reduced by your perception of her as damaged goods, you miss who she is, and who her friends are. You don’t devalue them. You diminish yourself.

I have no idea what Schuyler will do with herself after high school. She talks about being an artist, and she always says “I want to help people,” which makes her father ridiculously proud. My fears for that future, and they are legion, have little to do with what Schuyler will be able to do, or what her worth to the world might be in measurable values. My fear is rooted squarely in those who hold her future success and those of her friends in their hands, and whether or not they truly understand the value of what that means.

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