‘A child like that’
How much do you earn? What do you weigh? I could go on with even more of these kind of personal questions that are not appropriate for strangers to ask, and being asked them by a stranger is not something that happens on a regular basis either.
If you were asked one of these questions by someone when you had never even spoken to them before, it may be fair to assume that they are lacking in some social skills and are unaware of typical social etiquette and do not know that it’s unusual and probably a bit offensive to ask such personal questions when you don’t know someone well, let alone have not even spoken to them before.
Well this type of personal and presumptive, even invasive, question is asked on a regular basis to a person who has an obvious difference to others, and in my experience it also happens to those who are a parent of a child that has an obvious difference.
Let me highlight this with an example from a recent experience at a village fete. I had all three boys with me and whilst wandering around and we spy a tombola stall. The stall was a charity based one, being run by a person who I assume to have an affinity with this particular charity. I could tell this as I could see by her appearance. I didn’t however go straight up to her and point out that I could tell this about her by the way that she looked. However, when she saw boy number two refusing help to get money out of his wallet, she whispered in one of those not so quiet stage whispers to my mum who was with me ‘Is he autistic?’
I immediately felt my self on edge. My immediate thoughts were ones of wanting to explain his condition to her, to explain that no, he isn’t autistic, and that his condition causes him to have some behaviours that are quite similar to autism, but it’s not autism. Then my mum gave the name of his condition, and her response was- ‘ah yes, all quite similar aren’t they?’ This is when my initial thoughts of wanting to help her understand him and explain the condition, and explain that not all of the conditions are ‘quite similar’, turned to defensiveness and wanting to tell her how ignorant she was being. I guess this is one of those times when my thoughts on wanting to explain him and his condition, completely conflict with wanting people to be completely accepting of him and treat him like any other child- those tricky contradicting thoughts!
The moment when we walked away from the tombola and the lady caught me by the shoulder with a sympathetic arm rub and said ‘you do such a good job raising a child like that’, was the moment that left me feeling quite shocked to be honest.
I know that she was trying to be kind and trying to give me words of support and encouragement, however, she had completely got it wrong- I think the phrase ‘a child like that’ will stay with me for a long time. In the moment, I simply looked at her and carried on walking to the next stall. Moments later, in my head, there was an awful lot of things that I could have said. He didn’t hear any of it, and was happy with the two pencils that he had won on the tombola, so it was actually a happy occasion for him!
I guess the conclusion from this tale is that she was well intentioned and trying to be kind to me and my family, but ultimately got it quite wrong. The point of me telling this story is that it’s not okay to be completely presumptive about something, and it’s not okay to categorise children with disability and additional needs as ‘children like that’. I don’t feel that I am any kind of special person parenting boy number two. He is my son, just as my other children are. I am not going to put my hands up and say ‘I don’t fancy raising him any more, it’s a bit hard sometimes’.
I actually feel that ‘children like that’ can teach us all things not only about understanding the rich tapestry of the human kind, but also things about ourselves. They can teach understanding, tolerance, different kinds of humour, compassion, grit and determination. I think that if you have a ‘child like that’ in your life in some capacity or another, be it your own child or a friend, you will have learned a great deal from them. It’s a good exercise to sit back and reflect on what it is you have learned from knowing such a special person… boy number two has taught me and shown me an endless list of things. He has sharpened my skills in patience and compassion, he has given me greater skills in reading non verbal signs, he has taught me how touch is incredibly important, he constantly reminds me of how laughing can be a tonic for just about anything amongst many many other things. Go ahead, make a mental note or an actual list of all of the things that you have learned from a ‘child like that’.
So after the tombola lady experience, I can conclude that whilst she conveyed to me that raising a ‘child like that’ is something she sees as negative, I see a ‘child like that’ as being an incredible teacher, and no different to my other children and not something negative at all. Perhaps I should have told her that, perhaps next time it happens I will.