Wednesday, December 4, 2019
The free gift people can give kids and teens with disabilities year round
Like many people, I donated on Giving Tuesday to nonprofits whose missions and work are close to my heart, including one that runs programs and housing for adults with disabilities called JESPY House, The National Council on Independent Living, a camp program Max attends and our local Volunteer First Aid Squad. My Facebook feed was filled with friends raising money for their causes.
Giving Tuesday is a great chaser to the shopping frenzy of the previous days. But as I sat on my couch last night in my usual end-of-day stupor, it occurred to me that one of the greatest gifts people can give kids and teens with disabilities like my Max is 100 percent free and oh so simple. And it is: Treat our children with respect.
What does respect mean?
Presume competence. Perhaps my child is not able to do certain things—and perhaps his challenges are more visible than others' are—but he's got plenty of abilities. Cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, ADD: they're one part of who a child is, not his entire being.
Don't talk to our children in baby voices, or talk over their heads as if they aren't right there. Speak directly to them, as if they are any child. Ask questions. Talk about yourself. Be playful. Heck, make fart jokes if you want.
Have patience. Children and teens with disabilities may take some effort to understand. Or they may be slower to get their thoughts out than other children, especially if they are using speech apps or devices. Give them time. They may not communicate like their peers do, but they can have just as much happening inside their heads.
Don't pity them. Our children don't feel bad for themselves. They don't consider themselves tragedies. They are children and teens living their childhood and adolescence in their own way, and they need confidence and cheering on—not that "oh, you poor thing" vibe that they can (and do) sense.
Oh, and respect also means teaching your children to do the same.
It would mean so much to our children, yet it takes so little.
GIVE your respect.