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Tuesday, December 27

Why You Should Get to Know Someone with a Disability

Before I talk about disabilities, I have a little story to tell you.

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I have a friend whom I love to hang out with.  She is a wonderfully witchy person and always has treats and gifts for people.  She is a giving soul.  But I can only visit with her if we can do so outside of her home.  She is up for any kind of adventure whether it be camping, flea marketing, festivals, antiquing... anything.  She is a good sport about the whims of Mama Stacey.  Yet, I find myself dodging all invitations to eat dinner with her, watch a movie with her, or even letting her babysit Doodle Bug.


You probably all have that friend, too.  Maybe they have a cat that poops everywhere.  Maybe they have a hoarding issue.  Maybe there is no where to sit.

For me, the issues with my friend's home are cigarettes and television.  She is a ridiculously heavy smoker, like two-packs-a-day.  She's older and lives alone, so to combat loneliness, she leaves the television on all day long.  Her hearing is going, so it's pretty loud too.  I was at her place once, returning a dish I'd borrowed, and her television show went to commercial.  As sometimes happens, the volume of the commercial jumped much louder than the show.  It sounded like THUNDER had cracked 3 feet away from me. I jumped and gave a yelp!  She noticed no difference and insisted I was just being silly. 

I have a saying now.  "Thunder in the house."

Whenever you're in someone's presence and are shocked by something seemingly normal for them, you are in the presence of thunder.

Boxers in the living room?  THUNDER.

Kids standing on the coffee table?  THUNDER

Beer at a 3yo's birthday party?  THUNDER

We all have our norms and our I-would-nevers.

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My son, Doodle Bug, is a special needs child.  He has moderate mental retardation (or what they are now calling "intellectual disability") and is on the Autism spectrum, along with a handful of other delays and disorders that make functioning in this world difficult.  But I don't mention this for pity; I mention this because of the "thunder" I can no longer hear.

His arms raised up in the air while he spins in the check-out line?  NORMAL.  Sure, I've lost count of the number of times I've said, "Put your arms down, please," but I don't hear THUNDER.  I hear my son trying to contain his anxiety.

Having to hunt him down for dinner instead of simply calling his name out the back door?  NORMAL.  Other parents can boast about how obediently their children come running, but I don't hear THUNDER.  I hear my son's auditory processing disorder.

Having to clean up a 9yo's bathroom accident?  NORMAL.  I hear people grumbling about how they'd "beat that right out" of their own child, but I don't hear THUNDER.  I hear my son's physical delays.


THUNDER lessens when it is normalized.  Now, I would never encourage you to increase your exposure to cigarette smoke to ease your discomfort, however, when it comes to special needs individuals, I am entirely telling you to get out there and learn more.  I would love to live in a world where no one could hear the thunder of differently-abled people.

If Doodle Bug had been born in my grandmother's era, he would have been put in a state facility to live out his days in isolation.  If he had been born in my mother's era, he would have likely been kept at home so he could interact with family, but would have been isolated just the same.

Today, children like Doodle Bug are armed with masses of community outreach programs, therapeutic staff, special classes, and facilities that allow them to work and socialize.  They are encouraged to be out in world, quirks and all.

The one place, however, where people with disabilities are not always included is within minority religious environments such as the Pagan community.  Rituals rarely take the needs of those with special needs into account.  Pagans with mobility issues struggle at campgrounds, parks, and other gathering sites.  Asthma, vision and auditory problems, anxiety issues, addiction, allergies and other needs are almost never taken into consideration during rituals

Interacting with people who have special needs and disabilities is going to be a reality of your child's life.  I feel that parents should be encouraging play dates, classroom friendships, and conversations now.  Allow your children to normalize the needs of people different from themselves.  Look for your local Special Olympics organization and attend an event.  Sit next to the stimming child at the library, instead of the other side of the room.

Inclusion and facts are your friends.  The article, "How to Talk to Your Child About Disabilities", is a fantastic jumping off point.  If you would like a book to read with your child, here is a terrific list: "Explaining Special Needs to Your Child: 15 Great Books".

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