There’s something important I need to ask you to do, to make my sons life a little easier. Actually, this isn’t just for my son, it’s for your child to. In fact let’s go even further, let’s say it could help change the whole of society and the way we perceive those who are different from ourselves. So from one parent to another, here it is
“Please let your child be curious about mine”.
Please let them ask questions, please let them watch us and please let them learn that people who look or act different to themselves are nothing to fear. Disability is not something to fear. The only way anyone, both child and adult, can learn is by asking questions and listening to the answers. So let your children learn.
You don’t need to be embarrassed or feel awkward, there is no shame in the natural curiosity of a child. I would be more upset that you moved your child quickly away, than I would be for them asking why River looks ‘different’. He does, because he is and it’s not something we’re ashamed of or embarrassed by. You don’t need to be either. I will never feel angry towards someone who wants to ask questions about Down syndrome, I will talk about my son until the cows come home! I’m incredibly proud of him, Down syndrome included and I want the whole world to know that it’s not something that needs to be hidden away, ignored or felt awkward about. It’s just an extra chromosome, and if you take the time to pay attention you will see that to.
Children have an innocence, there’s no nastiness or spite in their curiosity. They are merely just learning about the world, and our actions as adults will shape their feelings towards those who are ‘different’ forever. You have responsibility to allow your children to grow up into accepting and tolerant people, their futures will be brighter and more full because of it.
Here’s what happens when you rush your child away from mine in embarrassment, apologise for them, tell them to stop staring or to ‘sshhhh’ them to be quiet.
- You are telling them that being disabled or ‘different’ is something that we shouldn’t talk about, therefore should be hidden away.
- You are telling them that being disabled or ‘different’ is shameful or embarrassing.
- You are telling them that those who are disabled, or those who care for those who are disabled, won’t want to talk about it. That it’s so terrible that we couldn’t possibly want to have a conversation, or tell you about it.
- You are telling them that it’s not ok to be different
- You are making a much bigger deal about disability than is necessary
- You are teaching them that friendships and relationships with people who are disabled are not possible
- You are teaching them to feel awkward and embarrassed around those who are different.
- You are not letting them learn about the beauty of ‘different’.
Do you know what happens when you give your child that look? You know the one. The one where you widen your eyes, with a stern look that says ‘stop talking now’. Do you know what happens when you awkwardly usher your child away? Well your child sees your reactions and learns that by asking those innocent questions they have done something wrong. Your child sees how you react in those situations, and the whole cycle of society viewing disability as a negative continues. Nothing changes.
Your child is a sponge, soaking in everything around them and if you don’t teach them to accept all types of people, then they won’t. By being embarrassed of their questions, you have shown them that wanting to learn about disabilities and differences is wrong, that they should keep there questions to themselves and just talk to people who are just like them.
I know it’s hard and I know you’re unsure of the acceptable way to ask. I know there’s no rule book and we’re all just doing our best, and I know that your intentions are not bad. I even know that not only are you trying to save your embarrassment, you’re trying to shelter me from it to. But here’s the thing. You’re not helping parents like me by seeing your child uneducated about children like mine, you’re hurting us. It physically hurts us to see you moving your children away, not allowing them to speak to us just incase they say something you view as wrong. You’re hurting us by not valuing us enough to see that we just want our children to be accepted, for them to be looked at and treated in exactly the same way that your child is. It hurts us to know that our child isn’t a valued member of society, that you’re embarrassed and feel awkward just being in there presence.
I know that you don’t mean to upset anyone and that you think you’re doing the right thing, but I just want to let you know that you’re not. Hiding disabilities away and ignoring them helps nobody. What happens if your child becomes disabled in the future? None of us know whats going to happen one day to the next, and not everyone is born disabled. Or what happens if they give birth to. disabled child one day? I never expected it to happen to me, but it did. Do you want them to feel that it’s the worst thing that could ever have happened? That their life is over or of no value anymore? That they’re worthless? That their child is worthless and has nothing to offer the world?
Or would you want them to feel valued within society? Would you want them to feel supported and accepted within society? Would you want them to feel respected and loved for being who they are? Would you want them to feel that their life still mattered and that their opinions were still important? Would you want them to believe that their life was still worth living, that their life was brilliant? I know that’s what I want for my sons and I’m pretty sure you’d feel the same way to.
And the thing is, it’s really not so difficult to achieve. Here’s what you can do
- If you see that your child has noticed someone who is disabled and is staring, ask them if they have any questions. Answer the best you can, but don’t be worried about admitting you just don’t know the answer. If it’s appropriate timing, then ask the person themselves. The majority or people affected by disability will be more than happy to welcome the questions of a child. For me, all questions about Down syndrome, by anyone at all are welcome at any time.
- If it’s not appropriate timing then do your best to answer your child’s questions matter of factly. Be honest and don’t make a big deal out of it, the worst thing you can do is teach your child to pity those with disabilities.
- Watch your language in front of children – ‘special’, ‘retarded’, ‘cripple’, ‘handicapped’, etc are not words that need to past down in generations.
- Talk to your child about the things they have in common with the person with a disability. Show them that just because someone’s different to them in some ways, in others they are really alike. Show them that just because there are some things a disabled person can’t do, there are many things they can.
- Encourage your child to greet people who are disabled like they would any other person. A simple ‘hello’ and a smile can mean the world to families who are quite often ignored.
- Do not let your child laugh at or make fun of someone who has a disability – ever. Those who are different are easy targets and laughing it off as ‘they’re just kids’ is not acceptable. Teach them that words and actions can hurt others and that everyone deserves respect. Also, if your child does make a mistake then help them learn and expect them to apologise.
- Teach your child about differences. Read them books, go online and research different conditions and disabilities, talk to them about acceptance and diversity and listen to anything they have to say.
- Make and effort to put your child in situations where they’ll socialise with other children who are disabled. Growing up surrounded by differences is the best way to learn that they really don’t matter at all.
- Encourage and support inclusion in schools, as all children benefit from it.
- And finally, lead by example. If you yourself are accepting and respectful of all, and don’t feel awkward around those who are not the same as yourself, then your child will grow up feeling that differences are no big deal.
At the end of the day we are all just parents trying to do our best, and we all want our children to grow up into the best adults that they can be. Let’s be the parents that they need in order to be great human beings, who accept others for exactly who they are.
Differences are not worse, just different.