By COURTNEY DAWSON
I am the mother of a fantastic eight-year-old boy who is severely disabled. He has Autism, developmental delay, Cortical Vision Impairment, hearing loss and he is still learning to walk. He has no communication, he cannot feed himself and is still in nappies.
Last week I read the story about Miles Ambridge’s class photo (Mile Ambridge was a little boy in the US who was excluded from him class photo because was in a wheelchair) and it reduced me to tears.
I read it while watching Masterchef with my child’s Behaviour Support Worker (we are on a huge and exhausting eight-week journey to get kiddo to sleep in his bed all night) and I felt the tears burn in my eyes.
When I was alone, I cried. I am still crying. Not because of the outrage or blame or any of that, but because this story about a child with a disability was such real talk, real life – this is happening.
I felt really stupid that my son’s school photos came home on Friday and I was mad that he wasn’t wearing his adorable sweater in them. He was sitting in a row with his fellow special needs classmates, being adorable (as they all were, good looking little dudes!) and it never even occurred to me that he wouldn’t be included, ever. Owen attends an incredible special needs school in our area and I have never seen anyone excluded in a school photo. Or in any school activity.
Not every child with a disability has access to a special needs school, nor may their parents want to place their child there, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. At his school, the only way he is different is in his personality, likes and dislikes – just like any kid at any school – because all kids are different.
Children with a disability are real and beautiful and they really do get put to the side in so many places, especially once they are out of school. Watching your son being left out at parties or play dates, because he can’t do what the other kids do, really hurts. Going to the park and wanting to cry because so many little kids are staring at your little kid like he is an alien is HARD. You tell yourself: “Calm down Courtney! They are toddlers – they aren’t judging, they’re just curious!”, but it is really challenging having those conversations with yourself on a daily basis.
It is also hard having those awkward conversations – “Oh, how old is he?” (Owen is still in a size 2 and up to my hips – he is a little dude) “He is 8!” “Oh, do you mind me asking what is wrong with him?” Yes, I kind of do. I’m not mad at you and I try to not think that you are rude but seriously, I don’t know you! Back up. Buy us some strawberry milk first or something!
It is so hard to see your friends have babies and watch their babies grow up and outgrow my baby, even though he is so much older than them. It is a tough gig! It is almost impossible not to feel some kind of resentment (“Whyyyy God, whyyyy?”) but at the end of the day, I have a beautiful, calm little buddy who won’t ask me 50 million questions every 5 seconds. He also doesn’t raid the fridge and smear yoghurt everywhere, which is a plus.
Every parent has obstacles – whether they have a child with a disability or not, but it’s not hard to just try a little bit harder to be INCLUSIVE and to teach that to your children from a young age. Nobody wants to feel left out and despite whether or not you think they can tell – it IS hurting someone’s feelings.