Sunday, March 20, 2005

On raising a child with disabilities, part 9: Concerning intolerance, or how to make a difficult situation even more so

Why did the woman cross the road?

To get to the other side—because my son was making so much noise.

Roughly 20 years later, I’m still convinced that this was the reason, though I’ve never had any real proof. On the plus side, that means that, at least, that particular woman was kind enough not to say anything to me.

That’s more than I can say for some other people.

I chose the wrong word in my Sunday, February 20, 2005 post, “On raising a child with disabilites, part 3: Oppositional Defiant Disorder—it’s not just for teenagers” when I said,“ How can you complain about behavior that noboby else’s kids are manifesting at that age without people thinking that you’re exagerrating or that it’s all in your head, or having your kid thought of as some kind of weirdo?” “Weirdo” was not the right term.

When our son was a toddler, I used to take him to the local Y’s “Drop-In Center,” a large, toy-filled playspace for babies and toddlers suffering from “cabin fever” during the cold winter months. Unfortunately, one day, we arrived a few minutes before the room became available, and my son was tearing around the lobby, yelling at the top of his lungs, as usual. (This was pre-hearing aids. The hearing aids didn’t help him with his defiant behavior or with his borderline hyperactivity, but it’s amazing how much quieter he got, once he could hear how loud he was. Ahem—back to the subject at hand.) So one older woman turned to another and said, in a voice clearly intended to be loud enough for me to hear, “Now you know why some children grow up to be juvenile delinquents.” Having no desire to take such an insult lying down, I looked her dead in the eye and replied, “If you think I’m doing such a bad job, why don’t you help me?” That shut her up real fast.

But the incident stayed with me. After all, it isn’t every day that a child under three is accused of being a future juvenile delinquent. That’s why, when our son was going through the so-called “latency period” of early elementary school and was supposed to have been relatively easy to handle, I made it a point not to discuss his defiant behavior with anyone whom I didn’t know and trust. The last thing I needed was to have my son branded a juvenile delinquent—again.

There’s precious little tolerance for non-“standard” behavior in children. And even in this so-called “liberated” day and age, most of the blame still falls on that old standby, the mother.

To all the mothers of children with disabilities, and to all the fathers who help support them not only financially, but also emotionally, and who strive to be good parents in their own right, I wish you chazak—strength.



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