Missing a Special Livestock Show

This time last year my oldest son and I were at the North Carolina State Fair, where he was a first-time participant in the Livestock Special Awards Show.

If things were different in 2020, we’d be there again this year, meeting a new heifer or steer and its owner, a teenager volunteering his or her time to be a part of this event. He’d be getting ready to lead the animal into the show ring, with the assistance of the animal’s owner.

This show is special and not just because the participants have special needs including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and spina bifida. It’s special because for those two hours, the participants can just be themselves. There are no judgements, no snide comments, no side looks or other forms of disapproval that so often happen where our exceptional children don’t fit into the “normal” box. 

It’s an opportunity I didn’t fully understand until I reflected on the show this week.

Last year I was so proud watching him lead his heifer into the show ring. Still, I caught myself calling to him to “hold the lead,” “use your show stick,” “look at the judge,” and other things that parents of kids who show livestock probably yell. The difference is, I was calling to him because I wanted him to show like he “should,” not like he “could.” If he could show a heifer without assistance, he wouldn’t need to be in the exceptional show.

This was an eye-opening realization for me as the mother of a child with autism. I realized how conditioned I’ve become to try and get him to fit into a box that’s not his size. Every day he has to try to blend into a world that doesn’t always welcome someone with his gifts. 

We spend so much time teaching our son how to interact with others. This show is a safe place created to give him and other exceptional people a chance to show livestock in their own way. It’s a place where he can interact with the heifer by mooing in her ear. He can talk to the judge or the heifer’s owner without maintaining eye contact. He can let the lead line go slack, knowing the owner was holding on. I thought I was going to teach him, but instead, he and all the other participants taught me.

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