I had a really sad conversation with a friend today. It left me sick to my stomach and wondering, “What can I do? What can I say?” So, I’m taking to my blog to tell you about it.
My friend’s son has Down Syndrome. He’s been at the same school, where most of his peers accept him, embrace him, and treat him as an equal. These kids do not have disabilities. They’ve invited him to be on their basketball team and want to include him. One of his friends has decided that when he’s older, he’s opening a school for special needs kids, and wants my friend’s son to be employed there. Most of these kids have known him since Kindergarten, where he was welcomed into a mainstream classroom at an inclusive school. Wonderful, right?
Wonderful, until you consider those that haven’t known him for years, and are openly averse to his very presence. Wonderful, until you consider people giving him dirty looks, or ridiculing his parents because he may not always wash his hands, or eats sloppily (both of my kids eat like pigs, and have no disabilities). Wonderful, until you consider that when on a vacation, he wasn’t as agile as others in some tunnels in a museum display, and children and adults alike stepped on him and tried to kick him out of their way.
My kids have always known what Down Syndrome is-they have a cousin who has it also. When they were younger, they’d say things like, “Hannah doesn’t talk to me.” We would explain that Hannah has a hard time communicating like we do, because she has Down’s. We explained she might be hard to understand when she did talk. We also made sure that they knew that she was to be treated no differently because of these things. Perhaps seeing someone regularly that was different from them made it easier for us to give our kids these tools, perhaps not. Regardless, our kids have known for a long time that some people didn’t look like them. Or learn like them. Or talk like them. It didn’t matter though, those people were still people, to be loved, and treated with respect, just like they would treat anyone else.
So…why isn’t everyone teaching their children these lessons? Why should my friend have to watch her son looked at with disdain because he does things differently? Because he doesn’t learn things as easily? Because he may disrupt class once in a while, or forget to wash his hands? Why haven’t some children learned that some people are different, and that it’s okay? Where are their parents? Why have they not been taught these VERY important lessons?
Parents: don’t shield your children from people with special needs. Don’t be scared to have conversations about it. Don’t be frightened of what you don’t know. Educate yourself and your kids. We can’t and won’t wish people like my friend’s son away. Disabilities are no longer something that we leave others to deal with. We no longer send them to a home and hope that no one remembers that you’re the family with a special needs child. No. We, as compassionate people, teach one another about love and acceptance, and learn to embrace each other’s differences…because chances are, something is different about you too.