I have a daughter with Cerebral Palsy. She's beautiful, but if you see her you can tell she has a disability. I also have a son with mental illness and two other sons with autism. The difference in how people treat them is amazing. If my daughter has an outburst, most people are understanding. They give us the pitying look and excuse whatever she may be doing.
It is not the same for my sons. They look like everyone else. If they have an outburst, we get dirty looks and whispers. Some people go so far as to offer "advice" on how I should “handle” my child.
I have family members who refuse to believe there is anything going on with my sons. Either they think I medicate them because I don't want to deal with the result of my poor parenting, I’m lazy, or that the boys are spoiled and overindulged. Ask those same people for a hand in caring for the child in question though, and they are terribly busy. Taking care of that child is too difficult. No time to help.
Invisible conditions can be difficult. Unless someone has been there, they don't understand. Short of getting a sign for my sons to wear, I'm not sure what I am supposed to do.
Learning from this experience, my advice is this - treat others like you would like to be treated. If the outburst or behavior is under control and you feel like it, try to take the time to educate others. If not, simply ignore them. Some parents have cards printed up with a short explanation as to their child's condition and a link to a website with more information. Then they don't have to say a word.
We might feel like we must educate the world, but our kids come first and so do we. Do not be afraid of hurting a stranger’s feelings. Do not let them make you feel bad. You have every right to be out with your children and so do your children. Care for your child and yourself, and then deal with others if you have the time or the energy. Do what works best for you and your family.
For more parenting tips, check out Navigating Daily Life – Parenting Children with Disabilities on this website.
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Here is one mom’s story about the personal changes she made to become an advocate for their child.