"Sabrina is an attractive girl who cooperated nicely during our session," the report read. She'd had an assessment done at school, and that was the first line of the summary.
I'd seen this sort of thing in doctor reports and school evaluations Max has gotten over the years, phrases like "Max is a handsome, healthy appearing boy" and "Max is a good-looking child."
Ordinarily, I will happily take compliments about my children's cuteness. It's good to get affirmation that, as I have long suspected, THEY ARE THE YUMMIEST HUMAN BEINGS EVER. I will gladly gush about any bit of them—hair, skin, freckles—if you mention it (or even if you don't). I do not think experts mention their looks in reports because they're any more beautiful than other kids; I suspect that docs and others often do this to make parents feel good, especially if they are delivering less than great news.
Still, when I see mentions of the kids' appearance in academic or medical reports, it bugs me. What do their looks have to do with their performance? With their well being? With anything?
I'm particularly sensitive about this because I know that the opposite—prejudice against people who fall short of societal notions of good looks—can hurt Max, and it has. What about those times when he, or other children with special needs, fail to fit the norms of appearance? People occasionally gape if he drools, as did that woman on the street last month. Sometimes, when he contorts his face into an exaggerated grimace—a muscle spasm from the cerebral palsy—he'll also get stares. The beauty bias can be yet one more societal hurdle that children and adults with visible disabilities have to overcome.
In a world in which looks matter, appearance should be irrelevant when it comes to my children's health and education, and I'd like to keep it that way. I want the experts in their lives to be all about their development, brains and inner beauty. The most meaningful compliments they can give to me are ones like "Max is a bright child whose articulation is improving" and "Sabrina has an exceptional vocabulary." Although if they want to tell me how amazingly young I look to be their mother, that, I wouldn't mind.