Pie with special needs

Pumpkin pie was, hands down, my favorite Thanksgiving dessert growing up. My mom always made a variety of pies, but Pumpkin was the only one I would eat. And it had to be cold… and smothered with whipped cream. Cest magnifique! I love that the Pilgrims founded America and all, but if they hadn’t brought the pumpkin pie recipe can you imagine how different life in these United States would be? Thank God they grabbed that cook book!

Anyway, the reason I share my uncompromising devotion to Pumpkin Pie is because a few years ago I was introduced to something different, Pumpkin “Crunch.” I know, I know… why do people mess with perfectly good recipes? I’ll leave that rant to another blogger.

All I know is that I was excited about eating Pumpkin Pie to wash down my turkey, and this rectangular imposter was sitting where the circular pie pan should have been. I was expecting a molasses brown surface with just the slightest appearance of a ripple emanating from the center of the pie. Instead, I saw a golden brown, crumbly crust covering the Pumpkin “Crunch” from one edge of the four-sided, fraud of a pie pan to the other. Thankfully, the host had a proper Pumpkin Pie waiting in the wings for the true autumn dessert connoisseurs. I savored my familiar Pumpkin Pie and watched in disgust while the unorthodox few consumed the Pumpkin “Crunch.”

Pumpkin “Crunch” was different. It wasn’t what I expected. I questioned its maker good sense.

But, one day I mustered up the courage to try this crunchy stand-in, because pie was unavailable. I looked quizzically at the square on my plate and felt like a traitor. I firmly pressed the side of my fork onto the protective crust to cut a bite sized piece, placed a bite into my mouth and… it was glorious! The buttery, crunchy crust was to the pumpkin pie foundation what the cool, yellow line that signifies a first down was to watching football on TV: a surprisingly perfect addition.

Seven years ago I was all about “pumpkin pie people.” I liked what was familiar and resisted those who were different from me. I just didn’t realize what that “different” was. I had friends from many different clutures, religions, and social strata, but I was still living amongst the pie people. On February 16, 2004 God brought a “pumpkin crunch person” into our world as we welcomed our first child. My wife and I would eventually learn that our son, Caedmon, had Cerebral Palsy.

We were anticipating, dare I say hoping, for a familiar round child and found ourselves blessed with a rectangle.

He would be different. He wasn’t going to be what I expected. Some would even question his Creator’s good sense.

Just as Pumpkin Crunch forced me to rethink my judgements and preferences; Caedmon opened my eyes and heart to the unique wonder of unfamiliar people. I was once blind. No, I once chose to look away, but now I see!

Before I tried Pumpkin Crunch, I didn’t care what was in it. All I wanted was my familiar Pumpkin Pie. But after my surprising conversion, I now could make it from memory and even prefer it around Thanksgiving.

Before I met Caedmon and began sharing his journey, I didn’t care about people with Cerebral Palsy, or any other unfamiliar person. All I thought I wanted was a “normal” kid. (I share my heart about “normal” here.) But after meeting our extraordinary son, I now can explain to you what C.P. is and how to manage it. I could tell you the unique intricacies of how his mind works and what makes it so cool. I could share with you all of the incredible things I learn from him and see in him, that I wouldn’t have been able to see before.

You see, having Cerebral Palsy, Autism, or Downs Syndrome isn’t about having a disability; it’s about living in a different culture. If you were to jump on a plane and begin living in Mozambique tomorrow you would be a bit out of your comfort zone. They speak a different language, have different mannerisms, eat different foods different ways, and get excited or down about different things. They are the same… but different. Not better, not worse, different… than you.

I have come to think of people with CP, Autism, etc. the same way I think about people who live in remote Alaska or Barcelona. They are foreign to me, but I am intrigued by their culture. My wife and I became unsuspecting parents of an exchange student and have developed a love for his culture. Had we not been granted that opportunity, we would have never appreciated his culture.

I know it can be intimidating to interact with someone who acts in was unfamiliar to you.

I’ve been there. I’ve thought the thoughts. I’ve feared the fears.

But, can I encourage you to move beyond the safe, familiar “pumpkin pie experiences” and venture out into the wonderfully brilliant world of new cultures. Contact your communities Special Olympics program. Google “Challenger Sports” or “Miracle Sports” and see if there is one in your area. Call your school system and see if there is a specific school. And volunteer. Plug in. Immerse yourself in the culture and see if you don’t fall in love… I did.


  1. Ryan, your writing is great its been a long time since I last saw you…The FSU days. I have dedicated my life to helping kids like your son, I am a special education teacher and for the past seven years I have taught kids with aspergers, autism, CP and other. I love it! I just want you to know if you ever need to pick someones brain feel free to email me! Julie Clark Lawson

    1. Thanks for your kind words and kind offer. I think it’s awesome that you are teaching those kiddos! I know it isn’t easy, but I also know it is absolutely vital. Keep up the good work and I hope that you find encouragement from this blog and will contribute to the discussions. Good to hear from you!

  2. Ryan,
    You are a talented writer and you are blessed.
    I grew up with a physically handicapped brother and then was an attendant in college for two years to a quadriplegic, so I understand how normal people are challenged around “different” people. I now spend a fair amount of time with a down syndrome adult and your cultural reference is spot on. We can learn plenty from them, and about ourselves, if we will only relax and enjoy.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement Jerry! I appreciate your first-hand insight, you are a more “cultured” man than I am and I would love your continued participation with these discussions. (I haven’t forgotten about the pontoon offer 🙂 ) We will be in touch.

  3. Who do I talk to about getting that pumpkin crunch recipe? :o)

    I know you’ve probably read this before, but it’s an interesting perspective and ties into the topic:

    Welcome to Holland
    I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

    When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

    After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

    “Holland?!” you say. “What do you mean, Holland?” I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.

    But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

    The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

    So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

    It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

    But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

    The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

    But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

    Written by Emily Perl Kingsley

  4. Dear Ashley,

    Thank you for posting “welcome to Holland”. I used to work in the Pediatric ICU as a nurse and this letter is one reference often when talking to people about the gift of God’s ways being higher and better than our ways.


    Thank you for your perspective on normal…Living as a missionary the past two years I have seen many women striving to live for a standard set by a culture on what is “normal” for the way they speak, dress, and spend their time. Helping them come to know and listen to the voice of TRUTH about who they are takes much time investing in a true friendship…and helping them to discover who they are because of whose they are in Christ is a beautiful journey.

    Just last night I was able to talk to a group of twelve teens about the person of Jesus Christ and whose they are as baptized Christians…sealed in love forever. To begin my talk I informed them that my introduction missed the most important aspect of who I am…the daughter of a King…they were skeptical but I said it again with true sincerity and reference Mia in the Princes Diaries…and told them I had the same discovery about 6 years ago….that all my life I have been the daughter of a King and how coming to know that has transformed my life…the way I talk, dress, treat others, etc…Then I was able to share with them they too are the daughters and sons of the KING…truly by the grace of their Baptism they and each of us have been adopted literally into the family of God…Praise be His name forever…for He has made us each uniquely in love, from His love, and for His love.

    Praise be His Holy Name now and forever!

  5. WOW Ryan!! You are an inspiration. I am so glad that I read this! It hits home here too. I am an ABA Therapist and work with special needs kids. Mainly Autism, but we do have some Aspberger’s and have had one CP kid. I am amazed at your insight and wish every parent of these Pumpkin Crunches had the same attitude you do instead of the alternative. Just as Caedon is a blessing to you, you are an even greater blessing to him. My old child has Sensory Integration which is nothing compared to what you face, but our house just functions a little different from “typical” houses. I have to say, after reading this, nothing about you is Pumpkin Pie, you are Pumpkin Crunch all the way!!! Thanks so much for sharing and I will definitely be tuning in for “the rest of the story!!”

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