Thursday, May 24, 2018

When "He's got a great personality" isn't code for anything

Growing up, saying that someone had a great personality was sometimes code for "She's not so attractive/slim." Then I had Max, and when I heard "He's got a great personality" I took it the wrong way.

As the parent of a child with disabilities, you can get a wee bit protective/defensive/utterly and completely neurotic about how others view them. That partly comes from experience—there are people who fail to see all of Max, including his abilities, and I so want them to. Max's cerebral palsy is just one part of who he is.

For many years, I had a bad stereotype stuck in my head. When Max was a few years old, someone in my family noted that he smiled a lot because he was "simple-minded," a comment that really pained me.

And so, when I'd get those "He's got such a great smile!" comments, I'd feel as if that was the only positive thing people could think to say about him (well, besides how cute he was).

You can never erase experiences or awful things people say, but you can mature as a parent and develop a thicker skin. Max does have a sunny personality and a smile that lights up a room; they're one of the most apparent things about him. Over time, I got past my sensitivity about how people perceived him and learned to take those compliments for what they were: compliments. I also realized that Max's good cheer could encourage people to get better know him. I didn't have to always pave the way for him to connect with people; he had the charm to do it himself. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and one of Max's is his personality.

I was reminded of this recently, during Max's IEP.

"He's always got a smile on his face!" one of his therapists noted, before he walked in.

"Every class needs a Max!" announced a teacher.

And I beamed.

1 comment:

  1. I remember listening to my mom talk with my great aunt when I was quite small. The great aunt was asking my mom why I wasn't in a special school. I have a physical disability and at the time I wasn't doing great academically. I took her comment to mean everyone thought I was stupid and didn't belong in a regular school. My friend in kinder who I shared an aide with was intellectually disabled. After kinder he disappeared from our school. My mom was friends with his family so I still saw him but I definitely had the idea implanted in my head that a) I wasn't very smart and b) eventually I too would be carted off to the "special school". It wasn't until 4th grade (with a wonderful teacher who DID think I was capable) when I was doing grade level work finally and then exploding well past grade level that I realized I was smart but it took a lot longer to realize that even if I wasn't "smart" in the typical sense it shouldn't have mattered at all to my value as a person.

    People make small remarks but don't realize how that one remark can leave an impression of years. I'm glad you are able to see now that people do truly find positives in Max's personality and are not just offering platitudes:)


Thanks for sharing!

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