Friday, May 31, 2013

Questions about disability

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 11:42 AM

After a recent trip to the park with my mom, Luki came home talking about a boy he'd met there. "He was different," he told to me. "He was a big kid, but he talked like a baby and he didn't know how to play the same games as me."

My mom explained that the boy had a developmental disability; she thinks it was Down 's syndrome. She also told me that, at first, Luki acted afraid of the boy and called him a monster because of the way he looked and spoke. She talked to him about the boy's condition and after some time at the park, Luki relaxed a bit, but he never got comfortable enough to approach the boy and play with him.

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  • Richard Bailey (from flickr's Creative Commons file)

I felt terrible. I know it's typical for almost-4-year-olds to be rash and impulsive, even cruel at times, but I'm always reinforcing the importance of kindness and compassion in Luki. He is, overall, a good kid who shares with others and demonstrates genuine concern when he sees someone hurt or crying. I couldn't believe he'd called another kid a monster just because he looked and acted differently from him.

Ever since, I've had several conversations with Luki about disabilities. On our way to pre-school the other day, we saw a little boy in a wheelchair getting onto his school bus. "What's wrong with that boy?" he asked. I explained that he couldn't walk, that he'd probably been born that way.

"So why is he going to school?" Luki wanted to know.

"For the same reasons you go school," I said. "to learn and to play with his friends."

"How can he play if he can't walk?"

"There's lots of games you can play sitting down," I said. "Plus he can move around in his wheelchair."

Luki had a lot more questions about the boy. He wanted to know what he did at home, what he ate, where he slept. I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, but in this area, my ability is limited. I didn't feel entirely comfortable having the conversation. I didn't know which words to use. At one point, I said that the boy was sick and Luki got even more confused. "Why don't his parents they take him to the doctor instead of sending him to school?" he asked.

I realize Luki reacted that way around the boy at the park because he'd never met anyone like him before. There are no children with noticeable disabilities at his school or church and we don't have any close family friends who are disabled. I've been wondering why that is. It could be coincidence, of course. But I think part of it is also that I, like Luki, don't feel entirely comfortable around disabled individuals. As an adult, I am not as open about my discomfort as Luki was at the park, but when I ran into a group of disabled young men at the grocery store the other day, I found myself staring at them. I also smiled really hard each time we made eye contact, like I was trying to prove to them (or myself?) that I didn't mind their presence there, something I've never felt compelled to do for any other shoppers.

I'd love to hear from readers - especially those who are disabled or have disabled family members - about this issue. How should I speak to my son about persons with disabilities? What is and isn't OK to say? How does it feel to be stared and smiled at? And, most importantly, how can I teach my children (and learn myself) to show genuine kindness and compassion to disabled individual without being condescending or feeling pity?

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