Tuesday, June 19th, 2012
I took Max to the zoo yesterday, a celebration of his last day at school. Max loves it there—he knows it well, there’s always something interesting to see, and there’s a train ride he enjoys. I love it there because seeing him so happy makes me so happy, too.
As we walked around, I noticed kids openly staring at Max. Max is nine years old, and I’m still not used to this. Max does not notice, but I watch them watching Max, and it still hurts.
The kids are staring, I know, for the very reason a young boy articulated as we were waiting in line to get into a butterfly exhibit. “Is he young or is he old?” the kid asked. Children know that Max is a big kid, but they can tell he’s not quite like other big kids.
“He’s nine years old,” I told the boy, “and he can hear you! You can talk to him, if you’d like.” He didn’t say another word. Worse, his mom was standing there the entire time and didn’t say a peep.
At times like this, I despair about how other kids see Max—and what their parents are (and aren’t) teaching them. It’s so unfair. If they could just look past and see the kid behind the disability, they wouldn’t be fearful or judgmental. They’d find a boy who, in many ways, is just like them.
Then last night, I came across an article online about an official in Ghana calling on people there to change their perception about people with disability and consider them part of society. He actually appealed to parents of children with disabilities to not to hide them in their homes.
I pondered the shame and stigma children with special needs have to deal with in other countries, especially in the developing world. Some countries struggle just to keep children alive; each day, according to the US Coalition For Child Survival, 26,000 kids under age 5 will die from preventable or treatable diseases, including pneumonia and diarrhea. Helping kids with special needs is probably not a priority in places where the mere act of survival is a feat.
And so even as I struggle with the stares Max gets, and the fact that many parents don’t educate their kids about accepting and appreciating differences, I know that we are lucky to be living in this country.
But in terms of perceptions of kids with special needs, wow, do we have a long way to go.
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Tags: cerebral palsy, health, Special needs, zoo | Categories: Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Children With Special Needs, Disability, Down Syndrome, Must Read, SPD, Special Needs, Special Needs Parenting, To The Max