By NERIDA LUCAS
There are many debates taking place at the moment between people with a disability and those without. These debates circle about with people to-and-fro’ing with their opinions and judgements. It’s great that the lines of communication are open but is any progress actually being made? Does stating our reactive emotions shake foundations? I’m not sure it does.
I am an honest, realistic, practical person. So here it goes…
Many people ask how to behave around a person with a disability, be it physical or intellectual. Here are a few tips.
My son is 10 years old and has Down Syndrome, Autism and ADHD (Hyperactivity). He is more normal than not. His disability is like a sheer veil around him that slightly alters his view of the world. It is not his whole and it is not who he is. He is a 10-year-old boy. He is not the lesser. The normal social protocols apply to us. Us being, him as a person with a disability and me as a woman who has a child with a disability.
Do not stare, it is rude. Do not allow your child to stare. If your child asks you a question or comments on the disability, answer it. Do not get embarrassed and run away, that is disrespectful to us. A simple ‘I have no idea’ or ‘it’s none of our business’ would suffice. I would prefer you tried to explain it rather than just ignore us.
If you feel their staring, question, or comment was embarrassing or rude then look me or my son in the eye and apologise. Treat us with human decency and common respect. The worst thing you can do is to be rude or allow your child to be, regardless of intent, and then not address it, it is degrading and disrespectful.
Never talk down to or over my son. Greet him as you would any other 10-year-old boy, again the normal social etiquette applies. This is a reluctant generalisation, but greet a person with a disability according to their age. Never assume you know a person’s mental capacity, it is impossible to judge. Their carer will help interpret if need be. If in doubt treat the person as you would want to be treated, not you ‘in their position’, the you that you are now.
Respect his physical space. It would be strange to pat a standard 10-year-old boy on the head or stroke his face. The same applies to my son.
If he misbehaves, react as you would any other mother and child. You wouldn’t tell someone you just met that their child is a pain in the backside. Do not do that to me. If he is misbehaving he may just be having a bad day like any other person. Do not assume he is always like that. Please do not react sympathetically, like using a smile-with-head-tilt.