Despite my efforts to not worry about the big stuff I have one nagging concern that I think I share with most parents, especially those who have kids with special needs: How will Syona be treated by others?
Last week, The Lancet published a study that said that the risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect for these children is nearly four times greater than for children who are not disabled. As a mom, I’m at a loss. In the last few weeks there has been an onslaught of news that shows the disdain and hatred for those with special needs in our society. From rapper 50 Cent’s tweets mocking those with autism and a Florida arcade owner kicking kids out of his establishment simply for having special needs, to a mother of a special needs girl abandoning her daughter, ignorance and intolerance seems to be a truly disturbing and recurring trend. While these are American examples, you can see deep-seeded prejudices right here in Canada: Do you remember hearing about the story about Children’s Aid deliberately taking a baby away from her family because her parents had cerebral palsy?
I spend the majority of my day taking care of Syona, who has cerebral palsy. Dilip and I do everything we can to make sure she gets the therapies she needs, while filling our days with the things we love. We are doing everything in our power to give Syona every opportunity to be her best self — regardless of what that looks like.
Will people see her big, beautiful smile and love for music, or only focus on what she can’t do? Will they make fun of her because she drools or maybe talks or moves a little differently? Or in my darkest what-if scenario, will anyone hurt her or be cruel to her because she is a little more vulnerable than the average kid?
I think the majority of parents worry about their children being bullied, whether their kids are “typically developing” or have special needs. When I was growing up, I was made fun of for so many things: Being South Asian, smelling like onion and garlic (wouldn’t have traded that for the world; my mom’s food was far too tasty!) and being short, just to name a few. Was I bullied? Yes. Did I stand up for myself? Sometimes. But the difference is that I always had the ability to stand up for myself. Not everyone in our society does.
When I read the study, I had a hard time digesting this news and figuring out what I was feeling. It was just another worry to add to my very long list. But we’re fortunate that we have a lot of people in our life that love and care for Syona. And I have confidence in the fact that, as a collective, we will protect her to the best of our ability, just like any family does.
Those who are most vulnerable in our society should also be the people who are most appreciated — they are the ones who teach us how to grow into a community that looks beyond our own personal interests and work toward being part of a society and that we can be proud of.
So I’m asking for a favour: When you see us (or anyone that looks a little different), give us a smile, wave hello, introduce yourself and teach your children what it means to embrace diversity and simply care for one another.
Do you worry about how your kids will get/are being treated? How do you deal with these concerns?