Dear Parents: Please Let Your Kids Ask Why I Am Different
I am physically disabled. I have cerebral palsy, and I am an amputee and a wheelchair user. All my life, I have gotten questions from curious little kids. I mean why wouldn’t I? They quite possibly have or will not see someone that looks like me again. So, when they ask me questions, I have been asked and will be asked a million times more, “What happened to your leg?” I always simply give my answer: “I was born that way.”
My aide was recently getting me out of bed and her young daughter asked me that age-old question, “What happened to your leg?” I replied as I always do. She then asked again, and her mom told her I had already answered and she did not need to ask again. I then said to my aide, “She can ask as many times as she wants.” It seemed clear to me that she had an issue with her daughter asking the question more than once.
When parents react this way, I want to ask them, “What’s the big deal?” If your child wants to talk to me and ask me questions, it is my personal preference that they do that. Others may feel differently, but I have and always will welcome it because it’s an educational moment for a parent and their children. Why not encourage that instead of dismissing it or not letting them ask the question? When parents do not allow kids to inquire, they’re doing them a disservice by not allowing them to learn from and interact with someone who is different. In my experience, when a parent doesn’t allow questions to be asked, it’s usually not because they’re afraid of what their child might say to me, but because the conversation makes them uncomfortable.
Maybe when you were a kid your parents told you to not stare or ask questions because they didn’t know how to react and interact with someone with a disability (visible or not), so you do the same with your kids. But as a person with a disability, when a child asks me a question, that shows me that they want to learn and they’re brave enough to speak up. Sometimes their parents might be embarrassed or think we do not want to answer. Trust me, I will answer their questions to the best of my ability. I think deep down some parents don’t want kids to ask questions because they don’t know how to talk about disability themselves — because they never learned about it when they were kids.
It is OK to not know what questions they will ask you after meeting me. It’s never too late to start educating yourself and your entire family in the process. There are a bunch of resources out there — videos, books, articles etc.
Parents, if your child sees me and wants to ask me a question, let them. Trust me, there is nothing to be scared of.
Getty image by Ciaran Griffin.