When people ask, “What’s wrong with your kid?, I have often wanted to answer “there’s nothing wrong with him, can I assume your struggle is with manners?” I am repeatedly appalled by people who tell me he ‘doesn’t look’ disabled. Disabled is a legal definition which has no requirement for how anyone has to ‘look’.
The truth is any child who is different has to learn to deal with their ‘differences’ – and every child has their own ‘differences’ that they have to grow into. When it is something like a disability that is apparent (a child in a wheelchair, or with crutches or using a white cane) it can be easy for that child to be a target of bullies or teasing.
There is no simple definition of most disabilities – thousands of pages have probably been written about any known disability. Autism, for example, has such a spectrum there is no way to talk about it except to describe the disability and its impact on an individual person, family or school.
There is great value in writing essays to tell a story about a person who 'happens’ to be blind/in a wheelchair/autistic etc. I would like to write about my son's experiences where his disability does and does not impact his life, to show disability as a part of daily life. The last statistic I heard was one in 68 children are being diagnosed with autism, it is important that more typical children learn to interact with people with autism as they are virtually unavoidable.
People with disabilities often do need accommodations – helping typical children learn to understand and accommodation is not only ‘okay’ but appropriate and also very valuable. Helping people without disabilities learn to
offer appropriate assistance is a positive thing.- not something giving my child an unfair advantage.
I use the language ‘typical’ or ‘typically developing’ to describe a person without a disability. I don’t think ‘normal’ is a real thing or applies to most people.
It is important to help children and adults understand the specific disability of a person they regularly interact with. Disability can be confusing, uncomfortable and even frightening to people when they don’t know what to do.
Also, remember some disabilities are more difficult to see. You could look at my child with autism and not ‘see’ a disability. I really am a good parent – but I have been faulted for letting my child have a tantrum when I recognize he is melting down. I have been faulted for disciplining my child – more than once someone has said to me I shouldn’t punish a person with a disability. In truth is, everyone's understanding of parenting may be different but I believe that all people can misbehave and they should be told not to.