I had an interesting and slightly concerning conversation with my youngest daughter a couple years ago about disability.
It was the perfect opportunity to discuss people’s differences and to help her understand that just because someone may not look the same, sound the same, or see what we do, it doesn’t make them lesser citizens, nor should they be denied the social acceptance that we able-bodied people can enjoy.
Out of the blue she said that she thought that blind people should go around in wheelchairs. ‘No,’ I said. ‘There is nothing wrong with their legs, it’s just that they can’t see.’
We spent around 15 minutes on this conversation and throughout I felt like I was doing a good job of educating her about people’s differences and hopefully teaching her that prejudice and pre-judgement according to people’s physical difficulties is not rational.
Having listened intently she sighed deeply and said: ‘Well, I still think they should go around in wheelchairs.’ Fail. She was fairly young at the time so I let it pass. Especially as she is renowned in the family for never being wrong, even when she so obviously is. But I am not concerned that she will grow up to judge people according to how able they are, or not.
Her brother has a learning difficulty and, especially over the past year, he has been fairly high maintenance which has had an adverse effect on the rest of the family, especially my two daughters.
Much of my attention has been on him and helping him get through the day and I fear that I have neglected my daughters’ needs in doing so.
However, they are resourceful, able and happy souls so I don’t think that any long term damage is done. But also I think that being forced into a situation where you have to live with someone who needs additional care gives you a useful life skill for the future.
Certainly, if someone had told me that my son would contract meningitis when he was just one day old and subsequently be affected by the damage done, I would not have known what to say or do. When you haven’t come into direct contact with people ‘different’ to yourself then it is hard to imagine what it will be like.
When an adult with learning difficulties waved at my youngest daughter from the other side of the street the other day, I encouraged her to wave back and say ‘hello’. It’s just social graces, nothing more.
I know that as a child, though, I would have been terrified to have done this. It can be alarming when people unexpectedly shout out, especially for children who are always being told to behave and keep quiet in public.
Although I wouldn’t wish my son’s disabilities on anyone (and they are fairly minor in the whole scheme of things), I do feel that the experience has helped me be more understanding of people’s differences.
This can manifest itself in many ways, not just in terms of disabilities. I find myself being a lot less judgemental of people’s parenting skills, understanding that some children require a very particular style of behaviour management, for example, and if that works for them, then fine.
I hope my children grow up with the same insight.