Do you ever wonder what people think about you and your parenting style when you are out and about with your special family? When your child is struggling in public, do you ever feel the stares, side glances, or comments being muttered under breaths? I’ve become self-conscious lately. Call it a super-mom power. The looks, the stares, the judgements. I see them. I feel them. I’m aware. As April comes to a close as Autism Awareness Month, know "awareness" is just a baseline understanding that there are others. We can start there. Work our way towards empathy and kindness.
Being a parent(s) of a child with special needs isn’t a job, it’s our life. It’s what we live day in and day out. Others may not understand it, but it's appreciated to at least see them try. A lack of understanding does not give a free pass to create an explanation of choice. The lack of understanding is always painful, especially for those living with invisible disabilities and navigating this world.
Every day, we as parents of children with special needs, juggle the whole world…for our WHOLE world. We are juggling the needs of our spouses, neurotypical kids, neurodiverse kids, pets, housework, career, therapies, homework, teaching, school projects and much more. In doing that, we have moments that, naturally, lend themselves to us feeling like we are struggling and often failing. This is when, for me, I am made even more aware of, or am more sensitive to being on the receiving end of the looks, stares, and comments.
With today’s social media and quick access to all things -the looks, comments, and side eyes are seemingly all made worse. Or so I feel. I frequently wish that people were quicker to Google disabilities, what they look like and how to be more empathetic towards those struggling with them, no matter what side of the disability they fall on. Instead, out come the cell phones capturing photos and videos, and it breaks my heart.
Though I may be on the receiving end of these looks and judgments from time to time, I am hopeful that times are changing and that this will no longer be a lived experience. As the world around us evolves, with that comes more awareness and understanding of things that were not, previously, commonly heard or discussed. ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Neurofibromatosis, Sensory Processing Disorder, Hypermobility, Coffin Siris Syndrome, Speech Apraxia, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia…all these and SO MUCH MORE our families are met with every single day. These diagnoses that have a way of making people feel isolated and alone at least until we meet others who are living and experiencing the same struggles we are. But as time marches on, we are slowly starting to hear more about these disabilities and how they are impacting families.
My hope is that the more people talk about these things, the more comfortable and open we are to answer these questions when our kids ask “Mom, why does she walk like that” or “Daddy,what is that on her legs?”. Truthfully sharing with them that sometimes people require a little bit more help navigating their world, and there is nothing wrong or shameful with that. Not hushing rather encouraging our kids to ask these questions, questions that lead them to a place of understanding.
Disabilities and neurodivergence are not something that can be helped and therefore should not be hushed or afraid to be asked and talked about. We are all different, and it is that fact that makes us the same. We cannotchange our skin color, hair texture, eye color or hand dominance any more than we can change how our brains and body work. So why would we try to ignore these differences, pretend they aren’t there or hush our children when inquiring about these differences among our fellow humans. If we help normalize these differences (and the understanding of them) for our young children, by the time they have children it will not be a “thing” anymore. Not something people judge or talk about or give side eye for. But instead have an empathetic understanding for their fellow humans.
My dream for the future is that instead of seeing the looks, hearing the words, and feeling the lack of understanding from strangers, that we flip the script and all feel compassion and understanding. Instead of side eye, we offer a “You’ve got this momma!”. Instead of muttering under thebreath, we offer “I’m sorry your child is having a rough day, but you are an amazing parent!”. Even a simple and genuine smile exchanged with parents goes a long way to soothe the emotions of the moment. My hope is that our children are raised with the attitude of “Let’s go see if Josh wants to play soccer with us” instead of “Josh can’t play because he uses a wheelchair”.
My hope is that in raising children who question for understanding, that they will raise a generation of those who live by “inclusion always, in ALL WAYS”!
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” Thomas Merton