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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Topic of Discussion

Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there is an important topic of discussion that is often overlooked within the family realm. I know I'm somewhat sensitive about this right now, and even recognize my own failings in discussing this with my own children.

"What topic is this?", you ask. Handicaps and disabilities in others.

Kira, as I'm sure you know, travels in a wheelchair whenever we go out. On our many outings I've noticed a distressing lack of respect from the general population. Adults and children alike stare openly at the marvel of a 4 year old child in a cast and wheelchair. Prior to this experience, I had been blessedly oblivious to this open display of plain ole rudeness. Quite frankly, it never occurred to me that this would be an issue that I would encounter. My kids have grown up around disabled adults, as did I, so wheelchairs and other obvious displays of disabilities have always been a part of our lives. It's nothing new, so I never realized how unusual the prospect might be for others.

Now, granted, it does not bother me so much when a young child is staring at my child sitting in a wheelchair. I understand the novelty and the unexpected nature of such a discovery. Children are naturally curious and rarely find themselves confronted with the realities of their own weaknesses. So when a child to come face to face with another child in such an obviously limiting situation, it's to be expected that they might find themselves being overly observant.

From one parent to another, I would like to encourage you to discuss with your children the reality of disabilities in other children and the proper protocol that should be observed when coming in contact with those children. Below is a list of issues that I feel you should discuss with your child.

-- Explain to your child that it is perfectly okay to talk to a child that has an obvious disability. They won't break and their disability is most likely not contagious.

-- Teach your child not to stare at a disabled person. Talk to him about the different types of disabilities and what may cause them. Make sure he understands that there are people in the world with disabilities and how disconcerting it is for them to be constantly stared at (or approached with blatantly rude questions).

-- Teach your child that while it is okay to be friendly and play, it is not okay to mess with whatever equipment the child may have to assist him with his disability. For example, playing with the wheelchair is not okay. Playing with the child is.

-- Set a good example. This is my sincerest complaint. As a parent, I know that the people coming in contact with me are curious about why my child is in this glaringly obvious cast and being pushed along in a wheelchair. As a stranger, I feel very affronted and insulted by "well meaning" individuals who approach me and beg for information regarding my child's situation. Quite frankly, if you (the stranger) needed to know what my family's issues were - then you would already know. No matter how you disguise it, asking me what happened is rude and disrespectful. If I volunteer the information, then I've opened the floor for further discussion, but to just walk up to me in a restaurant or other public area and start drilling me about my child and her injuries is unacceptable. (Okay - rant over.)

-- Teach your child about service animals. A dog that is in the service of a person is not for petting and playing. Make sure your child understands that these animals should not be approached and/or petted (unless invited by the owner) because it distracts the animal from the job they are trying to do. This is true whether the owner be an adult or a child.

One last thing --- if you happen across a child with a disability, take a moment to say hi to the parent(s) if they seem to be approachable. It is very difficult to go out in public with a disabled child knowing what type of environment you are entering. People either openly stare or openly avoid looking at you. Take a moment to be kind. Trust me when I say - it is HARD trying to maintain "normal" with a disabled child. Everything is much more complicated, even just getting in and out of the car. Make it worth the time and effort by extending a bit of friendship.


Liss said...

My thoughts are with you. You forgot to say in your post if your child plays with a disabled child at kinder or school then you should invite the disabled child to any birthday party you may organise.
My son did not walk until he was 3 ½ , doctors refused to do anything for him, they would not give me any aids to help him. He was too big of a pram and therefore I had to carry him. I hated shopping as I could not get groceries, push a trolley and carry my 25kg / 55 pound son all at the same time. Being single I had no husband to leave him at home with while I did my shopping.
Thank you for posting. It is not children that are afraid of disabilities it is the parents. No one seems to want to get to know us or give us a chance at times and if they did they would only see that we are normal in so many ways, just we have a different form of mobility or communication.
Be thankful that you only have to endure this for a shot time. It is very rude that people approach you and ask you your personal circumstances – That is incredible and something I have not experienced. I am lucky that my children look like there is nothing wrong only when you start to talk to them or see them in a playground do people realise the have a problem.
But I have had people give me the dirtiest looks when my son screams in a shop due to his age and size they don’t believe he should be acting that way. Not that I should have to explain my situation to anyone either but when this happens I have taken a new tactic and
I just say “sorry he has a disability” this generally makes them feel bad of giving me a dirty look.

Mom said...

You make a good point. I did forget about invitations and such, mostly because it isn't something I've had to deal with from either side of that dilema.

I also didn't mention just how lonely it can be for the parents of a disabled child. It is often difficult for the parent of a healthy child to connect with the parent of a disabled child. We feel guilty, or unsure, because our child is healthy and yours is not. We wonder if you would resent us for that. We don't know what to say - or what not to say - to the parent with a disabled child because we've never dealt with those issues in our own lives. Sometimes it is easier to avoid the personal discomfort than it is to approach the possibility of building a relationship.

Even I, with Kira in a wheelchair, might be unsure of how to approach certain issues in a relationship with a parent of a disabled child. I know that my situation is temporary. I know that this will end. I also know that many disabilities - most even - never go away.

I was blessed to have been exposed to many people with disabilities when I was growing up. I learned that disabilities to not necessarily rule the person. It is a good lesson to give your children so that they will be more accepting to others issues when they get older.

Petula said...

This is a good post. Even those of us who know what to do and not to do often find ourselves glancing sideways. I try to remind my children to say, look for clues from the other parent of openness, tell my kids not to stare and I've talked about working animals with my oldest and now must have that conversation with my youngers.

When Amber was in the hospital and I was pushing her in the wheelchair and pulling Anna in the stroller I would see the looks of curious people, concerned people and wary people. I don't think the reactions will ever change but at least we can try to educate children to make a difference in the future.