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The Reason I'm Staring at Your Special Needs Family

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I used to be one of “those people.” You know, the ones who quickly avert their eyes when they see your loved one. Although I was taught that all people are equal in the eyes of God, I was also taught not to stare at people with noticeable differences, such as a kid hitting himself in the head and making noises. I’m sorry I looked away.

I will also apologize for the opposite problem — see, I’ve become a starer.

But there’s a reason I stare at your family, and it’s not why you think. There’s no way you could know. Because the little boy I’m holding in my arms looks like all the other babies. There’s no way you could know by looking at him that he has a rare genetic disorder, that we’ve been told that he may never walk or say, “I love you, Mama.” He will need surgeries throughout his life and have severe cognitive and motor impairment.

So the reason I stare is because I’m searching for your wisdom. I see the patient way you wipe the drool from your daughter’s chin. I hear you laugh as your son blissfully tears into his chicken fingers the only way he can, getting only half of it in his mouth. Of course, I may also be checking out your kick-ass wheelchair.

See, someday people will stare at us. My son drools and waves his hands about and makes silly noises. All babies do those things. But when he’s as big as me and his silly noises might come out in a baritone that carries across the restaurant, people will stare. And I need to be ready.

You’re helping me prepare just by coming out in public as a family. Some days I have the courage to speak to you. Most days I don’t. But I see you. And you matter. I won’t look away again.

Follow this journey on Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The Mighty is asking the following: “Staring” is a topic that comes up so much in our community. Tell us about one unforgettable “staring” experience you or someone you love had that’s related to disability, disease or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: August 18, 2015
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