We often get curious looks from children at the playground, which I always respond to with a kind smile and get back to paying attention to my son.
But the other day was a little different.
A little boy, maybe 10-years-old, came up, looked at my son, and then asked me if he went to the local elementary school. I responded yes, and the little boy said, in a totally pleasant way, “Yeah, I see him everywhere at school.”
I introduced my son (who was too busy with the swings to care) and told the little boy that he should say “hi” next time he sees my son in the hallway.
What happened next absolutely floored me.
The little boy asked, “What’s wrong with his legs? He’s had a lot of surgeries, huh?”
Normally, I might get defensive at the whole “What’s wrong with…?” line of questioning, but this was different. The kid was genuinely curious and was coming from a place of care. So I explained how my son had had a brain injury while he was still in his mom’s tummy—and that besides having muscles that were a little tight and not talking, he’s just like every other kid out there.
The boy took that information in and just said, “That’s cool. I guess I’ll see him around at school.” He then smiled at my son and ran off.
I don’t know why, but I was deeply moved by this encounter. My guard is always up around my son, and I wonder if that results in people not getting to know him or being afraid to ask. But this kid asked in a respectful way, took in the information, smiled, and kept moving.
He did everything right. And in that moment, my son made a new friend. That's pretty cool.
I happened to see the kid on the way out of the park with his mom. I took his mom aside and thanked her for raising such a respectful kid, and told her how much I appreciated how kind he was.
I learned that I need to be less defensive, a little less protective—in the same way that I want my son to let his guard down to make friends.
Not only did this experience teach me something about myself, it also showed me how I need to teach my other kids to act when they encounter disability around them.
If you’re curious, ask about the person. Don’t ask about the disability. And do so in a respectful and kind way. But don’t ever be afraid to ask.
I feel good that my son made a friend all because of a simple question.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.