Monday, February 23, 2009
Monday Morning Confessional: I used to make fun of a kid with special needs
Over the weekend, my mom and I got to talking about the bungalow colony we used to go to. A bungalow colony, in case you've never heard of it, is a cluster of cottages, along with a clubhouse and a swimming pool, on a big plot of land. There used to be a ton of them in the Catskill Mountain Region of New York, and my family rented a cottage at one for the first 14 summers of my life. It's kind of like the setting of Dirty Dancing, but without anything dirty or much dancing (other than disco).
Anyway, my mother mentioned this kid, Adam, who'd occasionally come to visit his grandma at the bungalow colony. He was what we called "slow" back then. And suddenly, I had tears running down my face. I hadn't thought about Adam since I was little, but I realized, with horror, that I and some other kids used to call him retarded when our parents were out of earshot. "Retard! Retard!" we'd chant. Adam would whine "I am not a retard!" and run to his grandma, who'd give us the evil eye.
Now that I have a child with cognitive impairment (who, unlike Adam, cannot talk to defend himself), it pains me to think of how Adam felt when we teased him. It gets to me whenever kids say stuff about Max, even though Max doesn't notice.
I've been haunted by Adam's face these last few days.
Adam is the only kid I knew, growing up, who had disabilities. It's weird, but when I've tried to remember how I used to react to kids with disabilities before I had Max—kids I may have seen out in the mall or elsewhere in public—nothing comes to mind. Nothing. Perhaps I've blocked out the memories because it's still hard to accept, on some level, that I now have a child with special needs.
What memories do you have of kids with disabilities and how you responded to them?
Photo by K. Guerrette