Young children accept differences naturally. It’s the adults in their lives that train them to fear differences. By the time the tween years arrive, unless we’ve done an unusually thoughtful job of modeling behavior and attitudes, our children are likely to pick up attitudes decidedly less accepting than what most humans are perfectly equipped with by default.
Years ago, my young son who has multiple disabilities, befriended a classmate at his specialized school. The friend had more sophisticated social skills and communication skills in most areas. Yet, apparently, they were two peas in a pod. I set up a playdate with the two boys, and it became obvious to the friend’s parents, despite their own son’s challenges, that my son’s challenges seemed greater. Not only were we not invited back, but the parents treated me differently (I felt it was coldly) on the bus pick-up line. Not even a communication about their decision to stop communication with me about our children. Here was a case where, ironically, parents who should have known better and been more accepting didn’t take their child’s lead in acceptance and friendship. Fortunately, the two boys stayed friends during the school day, until my son transitioned to another placement.
Sometimes it is the adults who need to learn from the children.
Here is an essay (a micro-story really) that captures an innocence and perspective on acceptance we need to better foster in our children—beyond their younger years. It appears in the “coda” of my book Dads of Disability: Stories for, by, and about fathers of children who experience disability (and the women who love them).
Lila the Philosopher
Lila was almost 4 years old when this story happened.
Lila: Do all people have all their parts?
Lila’s Dad: Well, most people do, but some don’t. (A discussion about birth defects, amputation, etc. ensued.) So some people don’t have all of their parts.
Lila: But they’re still people, right Daddy?
Lila’s Dad: Oh yes, Lila.
Lila: They’re still people. That’s the most important part.
Lila has a lot to teach us all.
Gary Dietz is a New Hampshire father of a 14 year-old boy with multiple disabilities. You can reach him and learn about his new book, Dads of Disability: Stories for, by, and about fathers of children who experience disability (and the women who love them) at http://dadsofdisability.com (The other essays in the book and poem are longer than Lila the Philosopher.)