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 person.
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.