Anyone who knows my little girl, Shea, knows her as a happy,
strong-willed, beautiful 5-year-old. Sometimes, though, the initial
impression is different for people who see her out and about.
My daughter has a disability and she walks with a walker. As
much as she needs a walker to get around in her world, I don't feel
she is defined by her disability. She is just a child, a
We are not shy about taking her walker wherever we go and,
thankfully, she wants to walk. On one hand, I want her to be out on
her walker. I want people to learn that there are all kinds of
children and just because she needs a walker does not make her
different from anyone else. On the other hand, people, and
especially children, stare at her. I assume this is because she is
so cute and people don't often see a small child with a walker.
Yet there are times when people will ask questions that are not
particularly kind, and I wonder to myself why they feel their
comments are appropriate to say to any child, let alone a child
with a disability.
People will stand over my daughter and ask, "What's wrong with
her?" as if she were invisible or could not hear them. How can
someone think that this is not going to hurt? It would hurt anyone,
child or adult alike.
I would love to say that in these circumstances, I have taken
the high road and thought of something pithy and profound as a
response. But I haven't.
I know that these things are going to happen and that I, as her
mother and her advocate, need to use these experiences as a
learning opportunity. To teach the world that children may have
disabilities, they may appear different, but they are first and
foremost still children. They feel and they hurt just like everyone
else. Treat them as you would any other child.
On the days when I wonder if I am really strong enough for this
job of raising a child with a disability, whether I can deal with
my own fear that I will not always be able to protect her from the
world, I realize the truth: This has nothing to do with me and my
strength, it is all about her. It is about whether she is strong
enough, and it is my job to set my energy toward making sure she
has the strength she needs.
The strength of spirit to stand up to the world when it is not
fair or just, or when it doesn't seek to understand. She needs her
own pithy, profound responses so she can stand up strong on her own
two feet and make each of these experiences a learning opportunity
for the rest of the world.
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