My kids and I watched the movie “ Wonder” last week. (Highly recommended watch by the way.) Wonder is a moving and heartwarming story of a young boy named Auggie, who after years of being homeschooled, decides to attend regular school. Now Auggie is a boy born with facial deformities, that instantly invites stares from everyone who doesn’t know him. The stares are usually followed by people looking away and his obvious physical difference makes it hard for people to look beyond it. Of course, Auggie, beneath his disability, is like any other child, interesting, funny and smart who wants to be accepted and loved, make friends and enjoy a typical life. It shouldn’t be so hard to have that, but it is. Watching this movie gave me the opportunity to talk about disability and teach my children a thing or two about responding to it.
There is a general lack of awareness and probably even etiquette I would say about how one should react and respond to a child’s disability. It honestly shouldn’t need any in the first place, because we should respond as we would to any child. But again, it may not always come to us naturally and we may not correctly read what the person is comfortable with. Here are some things I feel can help us figure it out.
It seems like the universal reaction, almost like a reflex human tendency, to stare at someone who is different from us. I don’t think we stare because we want to make the child feel awkward or different. We might do it out of curiosity and because we are just taken aback. But for a child with a disability, it is only another challenge to face; everyone’s stares, a constant reminder they don’t need about their difference. It can take a bit of training and practice but it is important to let go of the staring. Staring is a reflection of how we feel about disabilities and unfortunately, that is being awkward and uncomfortable around it. Instead, you could
Smile, just like you would to any other child you meet. A smile is the most natural and welcoming response to greet any child, and children with disabilities too, deserve that. If you don’t have anything to say, you can always go with just a smile, which is a perfectly welcome response. Not every parent wants to explain their child’s disability, so don’t ask them what’s wrong with their child. Give them a compliment instead, as you would to other parents with a child. Be real and honest and think about what you will say. You can’t go wrong with “He’s adorable or Your daughter has a lovely smile”
They need more of this and not sympathy and pity. If you think they need help with something, ask them “ Do you want any help with that?” without assuming that they do. Talk to the child with kindness, assuming that they can understand what you are saying, mostly they can. Other children around you can also learn from your behaviour how to be respectful to a child who is different, so model the behaviour they need to see and learn.
Often people with disabilities become invisible members of our society. But children with disabilities have needs, feelings, dreams just like all children do. Find ways to include them in activities that other children are participating in. If you’re going out, look for places that provide accessibility (like a ramp for a child in a wheelchair) or a quiet room for a child who gets overwhelmed with noise and loud sounds. Include them in conversations and ask them for ideas. Inclusion is so important and can make all the difference.
to families of children with a disability. Don’t assume you have the right to offer advice to parents about therapies you’ve heard about, in most probability they’ve already tried it and know more about it than you do. Offer help instead, in whatever way you can. If you can’t offer any help, you can always be kind and accepting. That too makes a difference. Just treating the child with respect and kindness and being welcoming can be helpful.
Our children learn from watching us. So let’s remember to be kind to people and children who are different from us. You can also read books to your children that talk about disabilities and this can open discussions for them to understand more about it. In a world where you can be anything, let’s choose to be kind.