I was reading another special needs parent's blog today and they were talking about their child being stared at, which is something that makes us special needs parents pretty upset for the most part. No one wants other people staring at and judging their child for their differences. At the same time though it reminded me of a funny story about my son and a lady at church.
I love our church, the people are so friendly and nice, the sermons are wonderful. We haven't been that many times yet, we're new to this whole church going thing. So there are people who like to stop and talk to us, and gawk at Skyler. Well this one lady, kind of older, very nice stopped and was saying how cute Skyler was. Well she started in on the crossed eyes thing. "Oh it's so cute how his eyes are crossed, isn't it funny how babies do that? My granddaughter's eyes were crossed for a while when she was a baby too. It's just so funny how they do that." Etc. We smiled politely and nodded, but she kept going on about how funny it was and how all babies do it until they outgrow it. So I finally just said "Actually he's legally blind." And I wasn't being mean or rude, I was just growing weary of the conversation and I am usually pretty good about telling people why his eyes are that way when they make those kinds of comments.
Her reaction was (thankfully) not one of pity in the slightest, nor did she tell me that if we just loved God enough he'd fix them, (that one gets me too) no she was polite and kind, but I think a little caught off guard and confused, because she asked me if that meant we were going to teach him sign language. I said yes actually we do try to do some baby signs with him.. I didn't quite know how to respond to that one. She was a nice lady, and I don't mean any disrespect to her, I just kind of got a laugh out of that one later on. I mean yes, I am teaching him signs, but not because he is blind. I think she got confused and couldn't remember the difference between Braille and ASL. I felt kind of bad for catching her offguard like that, but I don't feel like I should keep it a secret when people talk about his eyes being "funny".
I think Skyler is one of the luckier ones with disabilities. Because while it is somewhat visible (the strabismus) it's not glaringly obvious. Most children we see at the CNIB events who have some vision move around very well, even though they may go a bit slow at times to make sure they are not going to walk into anything, they are pretty hard to distinguish from the children who aren't blind/visually impaired. I'm hopeful that he won't encounter too much staring from people when he is older. More importantly I want to give him the confidence and ability to answer those stares, either with something witty or with information. I don't want him to feel like a freak or a weirdo because people can see that he is different. I want him to know it's part of who he is and that he has every right to embrace who he is and help others to see him as a whole person with a great personality not just someone with a visual impairment who needs the pity of others.
Granted though that he likely won't even know when most people are staring at him unless they are right in his face. Which I honestly hope never happens... Except with young children. Have you ever had a young child come right up to your face and look at you, and then ask you something about yourself? Some people might find it offensive, not me I find it a wonderful opportunity to teach the child something. I love to point out to my kindergarteners the differences between people and how they make us all who we are. Also the fact that they are looking closely and examining things, and asking questions means they are curious about their world, how they fit into it, and want to learn more about the things they don't understand.
Anyway the point I was trying to make is that a lot of people with the more visible disabilities get stares, and whispers and sometimes pointed fingers. I'm not sure how I would handle those except maybe to say "Stare stare booger bear, take a picture I don't care." while somewhat childish it makes the perfect point that the person who is staring is engaging in a childish behaviour. Children have a reason to stare, they don't know better, they are curious and want to know why that person is in a wheelchair, "Are they alright? Is s/he like me? Does that person go to school, how do they do certain things?" Honestly adults should know most of the answers to these questions or have the guts to ask the person instead of doing something that they know is rude, like staring or pointing and whispering.