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When a Woman Told Her Little Girl My Son With Special Needs Was 'Sick'

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As the mother of Matthew, a young man with a developmental disability, I often had to “handle” strangers who chose to make comments about my son in front of him.

Matthew wasn’t stupid and he wasn’t deaf. And he understood everything that was said.

The absolute worst example of this happened when my mother, Matthew and I were in the fruit and vegetable store of a posh mall. Matt was a teenager at the time and small for his age. He was impatient for me to finish my shopping and get the ice cream I’d promised.

Because he didn’t used words to express himself, his communication methods — loud grunts and hand signs, which only a select few understood were unusual and probably strange to many. But his challenges were obvious and he was a handsome young man. I liked to assume that strangers “got it.”

Not always. Sometimes people — in this case, an older, well-dressed lady with a child of about 7 weren’t as savvy. 

The little girl watched Matthew gesture and call to me, as any child of her age would and did. I smiled at her, took his hand and continued shopping.

The woman, standing nearby, pulled the child away. “Don’t go near him, he’s sick,” she said. Then she led her out of the store.

I signaled to my mother. She knew what I was about to do and took Matthew’s hand. “Don’t upset yourself further, dear,” she said. “That woman isn’t worth it.”

I stood and thought a moment. My mother was right. She wasn’t worth it. But her child was.

I ran out of the store and soon caught up. They were only a short distance away.

“Excuse me,” I said, stopping in front of the woman. “You have done this little girl a great disservice.”

She stared at me.

“You gave her information that will damage her view forever of people like my son, Matthew.”

The woman clutched the child’s hand.

I bent down to the little girl and smiled. “Honey, I really, really, really want you to know that the boy you saw just now is not sick. He has an intellectual disability. I know his voice sounds different to you. He was asking for an ice cream cone.”

The child smiled.

“Do you like ice cream?”

She nodded.

“See, honey. Matthew is just like you.”

I stared into the woman’s eyes for longer than I should have. Then I walked away.

Follow this journey on Donna Kirk’s blog.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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 14, 2015
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