Understanding a disability is a lesson that everyone needs to learn, but do you remember the first time that you encountered someone with special needs? Many of us don’t. We recognize that some people have a harder time in life than others, but do our children?
One mother realized that her child didn’t know how to interact with another that had a disability, and was shocked at her child’s reaction. So, she came up with a way to not only explain that the child has a disability, but that they aren’t so different after all by drawing comparisons to their lives. And her letter has resonated with thousands of parents everywhere.
I’m sorry. I was naive in thinking my child wouldn’t notice. I thought they would just play. I didn’t think he would recognize the differences. I thought they would play happily without any recognition of the wheelchair/arm flapping/screaming/speech disorder/Down’s Syndrome/Autism. But he did.
My heart broke when he pointed and furrowed his brow when he saw your child flapping her hands. My cheeks got red and hot when my child hid behind my legs from your son’s wheelchair. It is so complicated, isn’t it? It is so complicated that a 2-year-old child can point out the simplicity of it. “Mommy, I scared.”
I guess that is where it starts for all of us. Where stereotypes begin. Fear. We fear what we don’t know. Why would I expect my toddler to be any different? He isn’t.
So here is my promise. I promise we will talk about the differences. I promise when he points at your child in the grocery store, I won’t scoop him up and hush him with shameful whispers. I will talk about it. And not just about the differences, but also the similarities.
“He uses a wheelchair to go and you use your legs. But look, he has a ‘PAW Patrol’ shirt on. He likes ‘PAW Patrol’ like you do.”
“She flaps her hands when she gets excited and you laugh and clap. It looks like you both like watching these monkeys!”
“She has Down syndrome, but you both love playing soccer.”
“He has no hair and you have curly hair. He has a blue hat, and you love blue!”
Those 30 seconds of me pointing out the differences and similarities of our children, well, it might be a little uncomfortable. It will be worth it though. If it erases that fear. If our children can play together without boundaries. It will be worth it. And parenting is hard. If it isn’t, we are probably doing it wrong.
And Mama, please know this isn’t about charity or me feeling good about myself at the end of the day. This is about my child not missing out on some amazing people. I work with your babes every day. Every day, I learn more about kindness, strength, courage and faith. I experience more joy, sweetness and hilariousness. I don’t want my little man to miss out on these experiences. I don’t want anyone to.
So come over. Let’s drink coffee and watch our children learn about each other. And someday, maybe, when our kids are adults they can drink coffee together, too.
And it’s so simple. With just one sentence, she explains the differences, but also encourages acceptance. This method might be embarrassing at first, but to a child, these statements can open their minds and allow them to have a brighter outlook. When they meet a new child with special needs, they will not see the differences so much as the similarities. It’s so simple, and so effective.
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