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The Dangers of Keeping Disability in the Closet

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We whisper. We move to a more private room. We use vague terms. We are given privacy policy documents. We are assured that our feedback will be given anonymously. Because that is expected.

There is so much secrecy around disability.

It has become so normal to hide a mental disability, that it’s just assumed we won’t want anyone to know about our situation. It is just expected that we will want to keep this quiet.

I understand the need for it to some extent. I understand that it is meant to help us. But I think the secrecy that is designed to protect us is also creating, or at least perpetuating, the problems that we fear the most: discrimination and bullying.

lisa marsh son the mighty

It is so rampant and accepted, that we are made to feel like we must hide from it. We are led to believe that this is the only way to protect our children from the haters and the bullies who might attack us if they knew. And so we do it.

We tell the autistic child not to flap or make his noises in public, so people won’t stare.  

We try to keep him quiet in a restaurant, so people won’t say something to us.  

We try to get him to dress like the other kids so that he won’t stand out at school by wearing his baggy sweatpants every day. 

We tell him to keep his hands out of his mouth or his fingers out of his hair, so that people don’t see his stimming behavior and think he is “weird.” 

But why?

Why should our child be made to act like someone he is not? Why should he have to work even harder to fit into somebody else’s standard of “normal”? Why are we to be punished because we have a child who is different?

lisa marsh son the mighty

Why should we be the ones to hide? Why should we be the ones to feel ashamed?

Just so that the haters won’t have a target?

I think discrimination and bullying happen because of a lack of understanding, a lack of familiarity, and a lack of empathy. I think people fear (and sometimes lash out at) what they don’t understand. And by keeping disability in the closet, we are doing nothing to help people understand. We are doing nothing to demonstrate to them that even people with disabilities aren’t abnormal, they’re just different. We are not helping to create any familiarity or empathy. We aren’t educating them that differences are OK, that differences are what make us great. All we are doing is perpetuating the behavior that we fear.

I don’t want to do it anymore.

What if we refused to hide? What if instead, we were all out in the open? What if we refused to make our child fit their definition of “normal”?

What if all of the parents with special needs kids banded together and forced the world to look our children square in the face and accept them for the beautiful, unique, loving people that they are?

Imagine what might happen…

lisa marsh kids the mighty

A longer version of this post originally appeared on Another Normal Day.

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Originally published: March 26, 2015
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