After the reality of having a child with very complex medical and developmental needs sank in, I decided that I was going to bring my sweet Connor in his bright blue wheelchair everywhere I could. I wanted to introduce him to everyone and everything that makes this world go round. I knew it’d be tough (like places that are not handicap accessible, which by the way STINKS), but I was prepared. I was going to teach the world about my son.
I started noticing the stares from others fairly quick, from adults and children. I know they are curious stares, but what hurts the most for me is when certain parents reprimand their child for staring at mine and they don’t satiate their child’s curiosity. I admit I was this parent with my oldest son before I had Connor. I get it. They don’t want to have a rude, staring child so they quickly and quietly chastise them and whisk them away from the situation. And Lord forbid the kid cry out “WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM?” Am I right? Don’t worry my fellow parents, I understand why you do this…
Play this scenario out in your head: I’m pushing my blonde haired, smiley, bubble blowing guy in his bulky blue wheelchair through the grocery store. I stop to browse the latest organic baby food and your 4 year old spots us. Her eyes zone in on my guy and she takes it all in. She steps a little closer. She inspects every inch of Connor’s chair and is wondering why? She’s curious why this boy, who is bigger than her, is riding in this stroller looking chair on wheels and making crazy sounds. So she tugs on your shirt and loudly asks, “Momma, what happened to him?” You look up to see us just a few feet away and your heart drops. You think, “Oh God, did they just hear that?” You quietly hush her and hurriedly go on your way… praying we didn’t notice.
This scenario is one that I see way too many times and it hurts my heart.
Let me tell you why I LOVE when your child blurts out the obvious question.
It gives me a chance to explain my child to yours in a positive way that he or she can understand so that they won’t be afraid or sad. It lends me the time to introduce him or her to my Connor and let them say hello, while I point out similarities between them (they both have blue shoes or both like Thomas the Train). And most importantly, it provides a moment to ignite compassion and love for people who are different from them. This one tiny opportunity can be a life long learning experience teaching that people with special needs are still people with feelings and deserve our respect and attention, rather than to pretend they aren’t there or that we should feel sorry for them.
Often when we hush our child from acknowledging people who are different (simply because we don’t our child to seem rude), we unknowingly make our kids take on a negative connotation for these differently abled people. I seek out your beautiful, staring child and anxiously await the question that is swirling in their mind.
I love their blunt little questions because it is the start to acceptance!
Let me say here that not all parents feel the same way I do (to each their own way of parenting and dealing), but I am confident that the majority of us parents who were blessed with a child with specialties would encourage your child’s innocent questions where they long to understand. My deepest hope is that you are teaching your children to embrace the acceptance of others.
Start a discussion with your child about children and adults who are different than them, encourage them to ask you questions, and be sure to explain that different is wonderfully okay! I want you to teach them that these children often love the same things, have the same feelings, and they love to be included just like your child does! When approaching a person with special needs with your child please express happiness, rather than sadness. A smile, kind wave, and hello can make all the difference in the world.
Children truly want to understand why others are different from them, so I think it is our job as parents to encourage their acceptance … and perhaps maybe we can learn from them too.