Child with special needs on cover: Why it's so important

Why featuring a child with special needs on the cover of a magazine—and highlighting it—is so important.

Anchel
Anchel hopes more publications feature children with special needs. Photo: Anchel Krishna

A couple of weeks ago, I had one glorious hour to myself and went to get a much-needed haircut. The salon has a mix of clientele—from deliverymen who walk in for a quick clean up to little old ladies who come to get their hair set weekly. It’s a place filled with colour, diversity and lively conversations.

As I was getting my hair cut, two of the self-described “little old ladies” were hanging around waiting for their curls to set. To paint you a picture: There’s me—a new(ish) South Asian mom—getting my hair done by a six-foot Filipino stylist with dreads down to his waist and these two grandmas. We got to talking about diversity and how times have changed in Toronto, how it’s not perfect out there, but it’s better than it once was. Then I shared that my biggest challenge when it comes to diversity is finding ways for my daughter, who has cerebral palsy, to be included. The two women didn’t miss a beat, didn’t give me that look of pity that often comes after sharing you have a child with a disability. They simply stated, that yes, this was going to be my fight (and Syona’s fight) in the years to come.

So when I read this post by Today’s Parent editor-in-chief Sasha Emmons about little Pip and her older brother, Noal, I was elated, overjoyed and filled with so much pride that Today’s Parent featured a cutie with Down syndrome on their upcoming August cover. I remember being new to Syona’s diagnosis—Googling special-needs parenting and finding the Today’s Parent special-needs-parenting blog (formerly written by Amy Baskin). Although Amy and I were at different points of our journey, it didn’t matter. A mainstream parenting magazine included a blog for parents like me—parents whose kids face a different path than what is considered typical. It was the first time that I didn’t feel alone.

That’s why I think it’s important to feature kids of all abilities in magazines and in mainstream media. Pip and Noal’s mom, Tara, said she wanted Pip to open up magazines and see diversity reflected back at her. All kids are special. And when you have a kid that has made it through some serious, life-changing challenges, it changes you.

Read more: Why we put this little girl on our cover: video>

I know there are differing opinions on this. If you read through the comments on Sasha’s post, you will see that many people believe that this doesn’t deserve any special attention. But I think it does. Featuring kids of different abilities isn’t the norm for many organizations. I even heard a story about a major fast-food chain looking to recruit a child in a wheelchair for their ad, and instead of choosing the professional actor who was also a wheelchair user they chose a model without a physical disability and put him in a wheelchair for the commercial.

When I started writing this post I emailed my friend Louise Kinross, the editor at BLOOM, to ask her what she thought about all this. She told me, “Children with a disability need to see themselves in mainstream media, and I love the recent attention they are receiving. But I would like to see them included in generic photos and in stories where their disability isn’t the main focus. I would like to see them as part of the natural parenting landscape, which they are. Not as something unusual.”

I agree with Louise. But for now, special needs is different because visible disabilities aren’t often included in mainstream media. Everything is “different”—until it’s not. And featuring kids like Pip in magazines like Today’s Parent is moving us closer to the kind of world I want Syona to grow up in.

What do you think?

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.

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