I am drained, ecstatic and overcaffeinated tonight—the reaction that post got was incredible. It was the antidote to the Twitter venom. Believe me, naysayers, I realize that one Twitter outreach project and one gigantic traffic explosion and a whole lot of r-word posts combined won't change the way people treat my son, or the way people treat your kids, or any kids with special needs (or adults, either, for that matter).
Several commenters noted that the critical thing isn't to end the use of a single word—it's to get people to respect kids and adults with disabilities and encourage tolerance. Y-E-S: That's the end goal. But using more respectful and tolerant language is something simple and concrete to do—and asking people to do that was one thing I could do.
That's how it goes. You do what you can do within your power and your sphere, taking small steps—the same way Max got to walking. First he commando-crawled, like an army soldier. Then we worked for months to teach him how to pull to stand. Then he got a walker with wheels and he'd careen around the house, outta his way or he'd run you over. And then, exactly on his third birthday, he took those first few glorious steps across his room as Dave and I cheered him on.
The Twitter project and yesterday's post were my baby steps toward making kids and adults with disabilities more part of the mainstream: I asked people to reconsider using a word that segregates and demeans people with disabilities (even when it's not directed at them).
In Real Life, I take other small steps to get kids and adults to be tolerant and accepting of my son—and hopefully, of kids with special needs in general. What's helped:
• Putting kids' in Max's shoes. I'll let kids try the speech app on Max's iPad. When he was little, I'd let kids in the neighborhood take a whirl in his walker. I want them to get that it's cool to be Max.
• Asking parents not to feel bad for him. The pity distracts people from his abilities, his charm, his Max-ness. If I tell a parent Max has cerebral palsy and he or she says "I'm sorry" I'll literally say, "Please don't be. He's a great kid who's happy with who he is, and who likes the color purple entirely too much" or something like that. I joke. I talk about the every-kid stuff parents deal with.
• Breaking the ice for Max. When I catch a kid staring at Max, I'll say, "He's a kid just like you, and he has his own way of talking—ask him what his favorite movie is!" Or "Ask him what flavor of ice-cream he loves!" And when Max is ready to meet chicks, I'll be happy to be his ice-breaker. (As if he'd want me around.)• Giving straight-up answers. When kids ask why Max drools I'll say, simply, "Because he has trouble getting his mouth to close." Once, in an attempt to mitigate the issue, I told a little kid at a party that I actually drool in my sleep and he shouted, "EWWWWWW! DAD, SHE DROOLS IN HER SLEEP!" That was fun.
I don't have all the answers—this is a work in progress. And so, I ask you:
If you're a parent of a kid with disabilities, what do you do to encourage tolerance and acceptance of your child?
If you're a parent of a kid without disabilities, what suggestions do you have for encouraging tolerance and acceptance of our children?
If you are a person with disabilities, what say you?
Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
Baby steps, people. Baby steps.