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What Will Happen When My Child With Special Needs Isn't Seen as Cute?

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Last week I posted a new video of my daughter Julia laughing on Facebook. I was quickly informed via a comment from a “friend” that she “must confess” she did not find Julia to be “quite as cute” in this latest posting…


little girl with glasses on

The comment was odd, to say the least. Who says that, really? Nonetheless, the comment was made, and as weird as it was and as much as comments like that probably just need to be ignored and chalked up to the strangeness that is social media –  I find myself having a hard time letting it go. Not because of the reasons you might think. Yes, the comment was rude. No, you actually aren’t required to confess thinking someone’s child isn’t looking quite so cute lately – you can (and should) keep that to yourself. The real reason I’m having a hard time letting it go is because it tapped into something very real to me, something I think about and worry over often.

What happens to Julia when the world doesn’t think she’s cute anymore?

Hear me out. When people think you’re cute they treat you better. Cute is a shield. While Julia will always be the cutest thing on the planet to those of us who love her, I’m realistic enough to know that as she gets older her looks (like all kids) will change. She will get bigger, she may become awkward, and the strangers she encounters will not view her as cute.

How will she be treated then? That’s my concern.

I know the answer a little because the change has already started. The last time we checked into the hospital the nurses clearly treated Julia differently than in previous visits. She’s getting bigger and older, and the nurse trying to get Julia’s vitals labeled her as “difficult,” not “cute” and seemed annoyed by the challenge Julia presented to her.  I distinctly remember thinking to myself in that moment that this is just a glimpse of what we have to look forward to when doctors and nurses no longer see Julia as cute and little but instead see her as a difficult challenge.

The world is a kinder place for those it deems cute.

So I worry the world will become less kind to Julia when “little” and “cute” aren’t the first things to be seen. I wonder if people will take the time to get to know her if they don’t immediately like what they see. In truth, it’s already hard now. We get strange looks or no looks at all when we’re out in public — so much so that my mom recently made Julia a shirt that says “I’m not invisible!” If she needs that kind of shirt now at age 6, I wonder how much more invisible will she become when she’s (God willing) an older child or young adult and not so cute.

My biggest fear around this topic is that people will become less patient with Julia and less accommodating of the extra needs she has if they aren’t at first charmed by what they see. Sometimes I want to ask the moms of older kids with special needs about this. Did you notice a change? Was there an age when people’s reactions to your child shifted, when their patience lessened? Have we unknowingly been living in the easiest of years – and the harder years are yet to come? 

I want to ask, but I haven’t — maybe I don’t really want the answer confirmed.

It’s a sad reflection on our culture that this fear exists, but to be honest, I’m afraid of this happening because I’m guilty of doing it myself.

When I was 22 years old I decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International because a letter came to our house and inside was a photograph of Gracie, the cutest 4-year-old I’d ever seen. The letter asked me “Will you sponsor Gracie?” And because I couldn’t resist her cuteness I said “yes!” Two weeks later my intake packet arrived with a picture of my newly sponsored child: Yvonne.

Yvonne? Umm, where is Gracie?

Yvonne was not Gracie. Yvonne was not 4. Yvonne was not little, and Yvonne was not particularly cute. Yvonne was not why I signed up to help — cute little Gracie was.

The intake letter explained Gracie had already been chosen so I’d been matched with Yvonne, a child also in great need of sponsorship for the same reasons as Gracie. I remember thinking “I don’t really want to do this anymore… I kinda just wanted to sponsor Gracie because she’s really cute.”

Then I remember realizing, “Wow, I am a complete jerk.” And I wondered “Am I alone in my terribleness, or are other people as terrible and shallow as me and Compassion International knows this and also knows they must use pictures of kids like Gracie to get sponsors for kids like Yvonne?” Terrible.

I can only hope for my sweet Julia’s sake that most of the human race is not like the 22-year-old version of myself.

Please, please, please people, be better than me!

I can only hope I’m wrong in my worries and fears and that most people don’t treat others differently based on their looks or their size (or their age or abilities).

I can only hope most people aren’t so shallow as to decide how much love, patience, help, kindness and grace another person deserves based on how pleasing their appearance is.

I can only hope most people don’t measure the worth of another in cuteness but in humanness.

I can only hope… but I do worry.

This post originally appeared on I’m Julia’s Mom.

Originally published: May 27, 2015
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