Disabilities Shouldn’t Define Individuals Awareness and Dialogue Promote Acceptance
Disabilities Shouldn’t Define Individuals
“That boy is scary!” proclaimed the hearing “tween” to her friends at the signing Santa Christmas party. She didn’t know I could hear her, and had the grace to look mortified when I assured her I had and that my 3-year-old son, Cree, wasn’t. Even at an event that was supposed to be disability friendly, my son was still targeted.
It’s been almost 6 years and it still hurts. There is a saying: “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can break your heart.” In that moment, hearing the girl and her giggling group, my heart cracked a bit for my son. It won’t be the last time this happens, unfortunately. The beauty of Cree is that he doesn’t care. He loves everyone anyway.
The bullying of individuals with developmental disabilities is still a huge problem in today’s world. Despite the training and information out there addressing this issue, individuals with disabilities are still targeted for looking, acting, and being different. Every parent of a child with disabilities that I know is terrified. How will they know if their child is being targeted, picked on, or abused? It’s so much worse when an individual with disabilities has no communication mode. My son has a rare syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, and a laundry list of other medical issues that includes severe hypotonia and an absence of communication; he can’t sign or speak at all, and eye gaze isn’t dependable. How would he fight back if someone were hurting him? How would he tell me? Short answer: He couldn’t. I worry about this every day. Many of us do. HOW can we protect our children?
The news is full of reports of individuals with disabilities being bullied, being forgotten in cars or buses for long hours, being sexually or physically abused by people they are supposed to be able to trust, dying. And then there are the life-affirming stories about people who have stepped in to support those with disabilities, who have defended them and taken away the sting of not being included or accepted. Those stories give us hope.
A popular saying these days is “Choose kind.” Well, kindness begins at home. So do education, awareness, and acceptance. If you see your children staring at mine, bring them over to say hello. Don’t be shy. Encourage your children to ask questions, are, and they shower him with love, “steal” his toys and watch movies cuddled up next to him. Cree’s typical peers under the Arc Montgomery County’s child care center-man who have known him since babyhood—treat Cree as one of them, playing with his hair, talking to him, making him laugh, inviting him to their birthday parties. Normalization often leads to understanding and acceptance.
My twins have made a friend at our local train station. They began chatting with him three years ago when they were 3 years old. The gentleman is in a wheelchair, and my sons daily hurl themselves into his arms. After two years of this daily greeting, one of my twins looked at me and signed, “[He] has no legs!” I replied, “No, he doesn’t, but he has a very comfy pillow to sit on.” That was the end of it because the man’s legs, or lack of, weren’t important to my son-only his heart.
Catherine C. Valcourt-Pearce, MS, has been at Gallaudet University’s Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, in Washington, D.C., for 24 years. She is currently the coordinator of publications and managing editor of the Clerc Center’s Odyssey magazine. She and her husband, Larry, are the proud parents of four young sons—one hearing, one hard of hearing with multiple disabilities, and hard of hearing twins.
FREE Printable Spread Smiles & Acceptance – SMILE (Poster)
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2019 Magazine