New blog for Autism Speaks from the Dominican Republic

The picture I took before he grabbed my camera

With his siblings and neighbors

I was asked by Autism Speaks to guest blog about special needs issues again. This is the piece I wrote for them:

I was recently on a trip to Dominican Republic with my husband. This wasn’t a vacation, but rather a work trip. I am an artist with World Vision, a poverty relief organization, and we were traveling to a few of the poorest areas of the country to see some of the work being done there. I’ve been on trips like this before, and I knew I would see children in some very difficult circumstances. None of that took me by surprise. But on our first full day, an encounter with a child stopped me in my tracks.

We were meeting a sponsored family, and I was just playing with a group of neighbor kids, handing out stickers and blowing bubbles. I took a few pictures of some of the children and then showed them the picture on my camera. Most of the children we meet love this and want to see the camera. It’s magical to them.

I took a picture of one little boy who was about six years old and turned the camera around to show him his picture. He immediately grabbed the camera and tried to pull it out of my hands, but his hands weren’t strong enough. As I looked down at him, I realized immediately that he wasn’t trying to steal my camera, he just didn’t understand. He was a special needs child.

His mom hurried over and apologized to me, but she was also protecting him. I could tell she was ready to defend her son, and didn’t know how I would react. She didn’t know that I am also a special needs parent. My son is doing so well now, but when he was little, his Sensory Processing Disorder was absolutely debilitating. He couldn’t eat or communicate or play or go outside. We went through years of therapy, specialists, and appointments to get to where we are now.

I got back in the van and cried as we left. That little boy was so sweet, and his mom loved him so much. What chance does he have in that environment? I thought of all the resources we had access to for our son, but in that place, they are just worried about feeding their children.

Suddenly I realized what a responsibility we have in the United States and in other first world countries. We have the resources to help find answers for these children. When we support the research of groups like Autism Speaks, we are not just supporting our own kids or other children we love, we are finding answers for people who will never be able to find answers on their own. We are leading the way to help for children around the world.

I will probably never see that little boy again, but I will never forget him or his mother. They have left a mark on my heart. It will continue to drive me to find ways to help children around the world, and reminds me again that every single child is precious and valuable no matter the struggle they are facing.

Jennifer Shaw is a national speaker, author, and Top 40 Billboard artist and songwriter whose work has been featured by Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, Joni and Friends, World Vision, Insight for Living and many more. Her book “Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed My Faith and My Song” is an Autism Speaks resource. She lives with her husband Nathan and their three children in Columbus, OH. For more information on Jennifer or on sponsoring a special needs child through World Vision, visit

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