It was a normal day, nothing unusual. Saturday afternoon, a visit to the nearby mall with both the children, where I was checking out the ‘to buy’ list while my son was pestering me to get him another poster of his favourite soccer star and my little monster wanting to lie down on the floor yet again!
Anyway, it was a pretty usual outing for us when I saw an elderly woman in the aisle observing my daughter with a wrinkled nose and pitiful eyes (she had probably never seen anybody with Down syndrome out in the open before). I let out a sigh (didn’t affect me much but still!) and smiled at her, asking Aarshia to wave back. The woman was startled and smiled back awkwardly; vanishing in an instant and we went about our business of picking Aarshia up, running, selecting items and laughing about the whole thing.
This is not a one-off incident. This is a routine affair where my daughter gets noticed like celebrities but minus the awe and plus the pity. Pity for her and more pity for me as a mother. This used to affect me a great deal, but not anymore! Now I look at these women—elderly, just married, expecting, middle aged—and choose to not get affected because I do believe that they don’t know anything more than pity, and mostly they are victims of unawareness, prejudices and social stigmas.
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I do not believe that people are largely insensitive, I believe they are ignorant and don’t know the right way of responding to a child with special needs. They might believe that such a family is always sad, unhappy and its members look like zombies but that is an absolute fictitious picture! The truth is entirely different. The special needs families may not mingle so much with others, that is largely because of the responsibilities and the needs of the child.
Being a special needs mother, I would like for people to come and talk to me or just say hello instead of feeling awkward in my daughter’s presence. If I could, I would tell all those who feel pity for us that we don’t need it. If given a choice, I would still want her to be my daughter and I am sure every special needs parent feels that way.
You might see the difficulty in her taking those steps but you will not notice the unadulterated joy it brings to our faces when we see our daughter climbing the stairs all by herself, because in that moment we are celebrating years of occupational therapy and months of hard work.
You might feel sorry for her when she says those incoherent words but we feel boundless happiness when she utters those incomprehensible sentences because we’ve taught her every single word she speaks.
You might only see her tantrums and different-looking face but we are happy that she is with us after that complicated heart surgery. She is in our lives because we need her, we want her and we love her more than anything else. And when I say this, I say this on behalf of all special needs parents.
Sometimes you meet people who keep staring at you and your child in evident disapproval, wondering how we can all look so normal and happy? But the fact remains that our kids are ‘more normal than different’ and they bring unimaginable love and happiness into our lives. They might not be ‘typical’ but they are awesome and we are proud of them. So please ‘spare the pity’ and treat them like you’d treat other fellow shoppers or travellers. Look through the glass of equality and not disability. People can have both; a disability and a great life. And it is an important lesson to learn and to teach your children.
At the end I would just like to say that, dear fellow mother, my daughter is everything that I ever wanted. She is not a “tragedy” that happened to me. She is as precious to me as your children are to you. So, next time when you notice yourself looking at my daughter or somebody else with special needs, do me a favour and add a little smile along. Trust me it will fill your heart with love and compassion and you will have a better rest of the day.
This article was published on an online parenting magazine “Parentedge’.