When disabilities disappear: Having a normal conversation

After a chance encounter, Anchel Krishna discovers what it’s like when someone doesn’t see your child’s disability.

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Four-year-old Syona. Photo: Anchel Krishna

When my daughter Syona was a toddler, her physical disability wasn’t always immediately apparent to others. Because she was small, people usually assumed she was younger than her actual age. As she’s gotten older, however, her disability has become more visible. Her walker and wheelchair give it away, or sometimes it’s how she talks.

Last week, my now four-year-old daughter and I were at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) office for a session of vision therapy. We arrived 20 minutes early for the appointment—as we usually do—so that Syona could have a snack. She was particularly chatty that afternoon and I answered her string of never-ending (yet awesome) questions: “Why is that lady walking through the door? What is that man’s name? Why does he work here? Where is your Cheesestring, Mommy?”

As we were sitting in the lobby, a woman who was blind arrived and sat near us. After about 10 minutes of sitting beside us, the woman asked if I knew the time. I told her. She then asked if I could see a cab waiting outside. I told her there was no cab. That’s when Syona piped in with a slightly timid “Hi.” The woman responded with a hello and asked Syona her name. Syona looked at me as if to ask, “Can I tell her?” so I encouraged her to go ahead. She then proceeded to spell out her name and looked at me and asked, “Who is that?” I told Syona to ask the lady her name.

The woman answered Syona’s question and they struck up a conversation about random things, with me acting as translator on the occasional word or phrase (although Syona loves to talk, sometimes it can be a little difficult for strangers to understand what she’s saying). But, for the most part, I stayed silent and just observed the situation, smiling to myself. The woman, I imagine, wondered why Syona’s speech was hard to understand at certain points, but as the conversation progressed it became apparent that the two were having a good time.

This was the first time that someone had a full conversation with Syona without actually seeing her disability, and it was remarkable to watch because it was all so… “normal.” On my end, I was witnessing someone interact with my child knowing that she wasn’t aware of Syona’s cerebral palsy.

Syona’s therapist arrived to take us in for the appointment just as a taxi pulled up outside. I told the woman about the cab out front and she asked if the driver was coming into the building to assist her. It took a minute for me to see and, just as I was about to offer her my arm and escort her to the taxi, the driver stepped into the lobby. This brief interaction made me realize how comfortable I’d become seeing people for who they are and what we may share in common—as opposed to noticing what makes them appear “different” right up front. And I looked down at my little girl and silently thanked her for the perspective our family’s “difference” has made on me.

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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