Disabilities are Just Differences: Don’t Judge Me

Author:  Rosemary Burns
Don't judge by the cover - everyone's life is wrapped in a story.
Don’t judge by the cover – we all have different stories inside us.

I am forever telling my kids not to judge a book by its cover.  I explain that the way a person looks or dresses or acts does not necessarily convey their true self.  There are many different reasons why an individual appears the way that he/she does – finances, culture, environment, style.  The list could go on and on.

I feel most people dress as an expression of their personality.  Little girls tend to dress in pastels and sparkles and pretend they are little princesses.  Little boys seem to enjoy wearing clothes in the primary colors depicting super heroes and Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Nature vs. Nurture?  A bit of both I imagine.

Older kids seem to want to ‘fit in’ and wear the latest fads and only brand-name clothing (much to my chagrin).  Adults too can be accused of this as well — wanting to ‘look the part’ of the successful business person.

I, more often than not, am charged with ‘dressing like a mom.’  It’s true.  I admit to being horrified sometimes when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror at Target or Kohl’s.  When did I stop caring what I looked like when I go out anyway?  I think it was a gradual state of exhaustion while raising four kids.

Beyond appearance though, trying to teach your kids to embrace others who do not look or act similar isn’t all that difficult to do.  Young kids don’t see race or religion or even sex roles really.  Those concepts are taught to them by adults.  A new friend is just a new friend.

Pre-teens and teens see the differences, but from my observations of my own children and their friends, they just plain don’t care.  People are different and thank God for diversity!

I often see small curious kids in public spaces, being reprimanded by their parents when they notice a person with a visible disability.  Being hushed by an adult not to point or ask questions conveys, at least in my opinion, that the person should somehow be ashamed of their state of being.

Answer your child’s question just matter-of-factly and it will become just a matter of fact.  Mental Illnesses often times are not visible to the eye.  That girl or the guy who is seemingly able to hold it together on the outside, may be fighting an ongoing battle so debilitating on the inside, that just to be able to function in what is considered a normal state takes a heroic effort.  Getting yourself out of bed, leaving your house, walking into school or a store, raising your hand in class, trying to make a friend or hold down a part-time job, becomes a tremendous challenge to a kid or adult dealing with a mental illness.Disabilities are just differences.
Walk in my shoes
Honestly, we have all seen folks with mental illnesses who have visible side-effects as well.  Repeated movements, talking to an invisible companion, hygiene issues, inappropriately dressed for the weather conditions —  the list of course is varied.  These people more often than not are not getting the healthcare that they need.  As my Dad used to say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”My son has severe OCD and Chronic Lyme Disease.  He was misdiagnosed for many years with ADD, atypical migraines, cardiac issues, behavioral problems, Bi-polar and Autism were considered.  He has been on so many mind-altering medications that I don’t know for sure if they have had a lasting negative affect on him or not.  To medicate or not is such an agonizing decision for parents to have to make for their child.  At times the meds would knock him for such a loop that he could not wake up for long periods labeling him ‘a slacker’ in school and God forgive me, at home as well.Many times I would have him wear the clothes to bed that he was going to wear the next day to eliminate that step of having to get him dressed in the morning so he could get to school on time.  Often he would appear wrinkled and disheveled, but he made it to school that day.

Sometimes the meds he took made him pack on unwanted pounds making him unable to play the sports that he so loved.  The uncontrollable rituals he often has to perform to find relief temporarily from OCD are at times more than he can handle and he lashes out verbally or physically at those nearest and dearest to him.  Family relationships are constantly being tested, torn and repaired as we all find ways to deal with our ‘normal’.

We all have different stories inside of us.  Teach your kids not to judge by the ‘cover’ that we may wear — or that we see others wear.

Get to know a person. Turn a few of their pages.  We are all bound by humanity.