God doesn't give children with special needs to strong people; He gives children with special needs to ordinary, weak people and then gives them strength. Raising a child with special needs doesn't take a special family, it makes a special family.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A few days ago, we were in Walmart. Brenden was using his walker which he is doing really well with lately, but is still a bit slow. Madelynn and I had ventured to another aisle and when I came back to Jonathan and Brenden, there was an older lady talking to them. As I got closer, Jonathan told me this lady had a 30 year old daughter and a 23 year old adopted son, both with SB. We chatted for a bit and then parted ways.
When this lady saw them, she asked Jonathan what was wrong with Brenden. He simply responded, "Nothing's wrong with him," and they continued on their way. She then asked why he was using a walker. Jonathan replied, "He was born with spina bifida, but nothing's wrong with him."
Many of you may see nothing wrong with this lady's question. But for us, it's hurtful. Nothing is wrong with a child who has a "disability." Many of us see elderly people using a walker, cane, wheelchair, or other equipment, and not once do we wonder what's "wrong" with them. As a society, we think it's "normal" for an older person to have deteriorating health and mobility challenges. But it's a different story when there is a child using that same equipment. People stare. People laugh and point. People mumble. And some people just flat out say what's on their mind, no matter how ignorant the comment may be. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone say, "Oh, how cute," in reference to Brenden using his walker. I want to just scream in their face that no, it's not cute that he has to use a walker. I have learned to bite my tongue and hold back my tears when faced with such ignorance, but sometimes it's gut wrenchingly hard.
The term disability can be applied to all of us, diagnosis or not. We all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses. Brenden may not have full use of his legs, but he has more social skills than many adults I know. Being able to walk does not make me more 'normal' than someone who can't. Over a year ago, I had a moment of realization. One that I will forever remember. Jonathan, the kids, and I were in Target. I was waiting to check out, Madelynn in her car seat in the back of the cart, Brenden in the front. I noticed a girl, about 10 years old, walking down the aisle towards us. She was using a Kaye walker, much like the one Brenden has. She didn't have the perfect gait, she was slow, but she was walking, regardless of the struggle it brought. I also noticed the way people were staring at her. Adults, who should know better, just stared at her like she was a freak. My heart ached. Partly because I didn't understand how people could be so ignorant, but partly because I knew the day would come when Brenden would get those same stares. But then there was Brenden....as soon as he spotted her, he started yelling, "Hi! Hey! Hi!," and waving. Brenden will say hi to someone until they respond, so he kept yelling and waving until she noticed him. As she passed us, her face lit up, she smiled, and said "Hi." That moment made me realize the innocence of a child. Brenden didn't care that she didn't walk perfectly, that she wore braces on her ankles, that she used a walker. He saw a little girl and wanted to say hi.
There are many adults that need a lesson on seeing beyond what a person can or cannot do. So the next time you see a child who is differently abled, do me a favor and don't stare. Don't whisper. Don't ask their parent what's wrong. Treat that child like you would anyone else. Don't focus on what they can't do, focus on what they can do. They have feelings, and so do their parents.


Aunt Barb/Uncle Larry said...

As long as you continue to raise Brenden the way that you are --he will continue to be a testimony. Similar things have happened to us with Jennifer when she is in a wheelchair, but she says just say a little prayer they don't understand and pray that they never have to be in a similar situation. We do have to educate others at times but we are God's children. Some just don't know how to handle themselves as well as others, but we still pray for them Michelle this message needs to be seen by others, please consisder putting this in The Journal as a guest columnist

Joanna said...

A heartbreaking but inspiring post. I know exactly "the look" you are talking about and it's so frustrating. But I also remember a time before Jet, before SB, before my eyes were opened that I might have looked as awkward as some of these people do. Not that I would have EVER asked "what's wrong with them?" - that just seems so obviously hurtful! But it's up to us, and Brenden, and Jet to help people see and accept and understand that everyone is different - and there is NOTHING "wrong" with that. It is so hard at times - but the more we can stop and explain our story (and maybe do a little "manners" education) the more people will start to get it. Thank you so much for sharing this. Sending our love to you and Brenden!