I talked some in the last post about the unwanted gift that we receive when we have a disability. The gift is that we can see the world from a very different perspective. Having been born with what many might consider a minor disability, the absence of a left hand, I still am aware that I look at things around disability in a very different way than more “able-bodied” friends. First of all, I was aware growing up that adults may be more uncomfortable than children with a disability. Children just seem to be curious. The questions about how I was different and why I was different. But it was more difficult for me to deal with the same questions from older children or adults. Their questions bothered me. At times I felt ashamed. Obviously, I shouldn’t have, since I had nothing to do with having one hand.
As an adult and as a psychologist, I am aware that the way we deal with young children about difference has a lot to do with the attitudes and behaviors that they eventually develop around people who are different. It often starts with attempts by adults to hush young children and keep them from asking questions so that they will be polite and not rude. The message that we convey when we do this with our children is that there is something wrong about the difference that shouldn’t be talked about. There is something wrong with the person who has the difference, and if we talk about it, it will embarrass the person. Children are also often taught to feel sorry for the “disabled person” and to thank God that they are not like them. It doesn’t take long to understand why they develop the attitudes and behaviors that they eventually exhibit as older children and adults.