I recently shared my thoughts on invisible versus visible disabilities and how this has an impact on my family’s experiences. (My four-year-old daughter, Syona, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around.) Earlier this week, I came across the story of an eight-year-old boy with autism and ADHD who created a card that explains his conditions in an effort to stop strangers from judging him.
The card reads: “Stop don’t judge me! I’m not naughty or rude. My name is Dan and I am autistic and I have ADHD. Life is a challenge, and the more people that understand it the better it will be. Thank you for reading. Have a nice day.” This incredible little boy’s name is Daniel Booth, and his story is making the rounds in the UK. His mom, Karen, helped him design his cards, which he hands out whenever he feels it’s necessary.
I can understand why parents would want to pre-emptively explain away their child’s disabilities, like this Toronto mom who wears a laminated sign on her backpack that notifies the public of her five-year-old son’s autism. There are times when I’m tempted to carry a placard on Syona’s behalf that states: “I’m having a tantrum because [insert], not because I’m in a wheelchair.” But I would never do it because her wheelchair is already a visual cue to her disability, and often a simple smile can open up a conversation with someone I catch staring.
However, the fact that little Daniel Booth came up with his own words to explain himself is, in my opinion, truly awesome. I’ve written before about self-advocacy and the importance of teaching this skill to kids living with a disability. In this case, a young boy advocated for himself with a simple request that people be more understanding of his conditions. I think this shows incredible self-awareness and confidence.
There was, however, one element to this story that broke my heart. “There was one day when Dan was doing a roly-poly in the aisle of Asda and he heard a woman talking to her partner,” says his mom, Karen. “The woman said, ‘If that was my child, I’d have drowned him at birth….’”
If there is one thing that this special-needs journey with my daughter has taught me, it is that we all need to cut each other a bit of slack. We need to judge a little less and show a little more kindness. Giving people the benefit of the doubt helps make the world a little bit better. If people like this woman who made that horrible comment about Daniel tried to be compassionate, maybe kids like him wouldn’t have to plead publicly for understanding.
It’s not always easy to ask for help and understanding, but it is important. And at the age of eight, Daniel has already learned that valuable lesson. How awesome is that?
Read more: Living with autism>
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