Over the past 5 years I have noticed the number of strange encounters I have when out with my disabled child far outweigh those that I have with my typical 4-year-old.
Actually, I’d go as far as to stay nothing strange or out-of-the-ordinary ever happens when I venture out with my youngest child.
However, strange encounters are certainly a weekly, if not daily, occurrence when I take my 5-year-old out in his wheelchair, whether it is for a walk around our neighbourhood or just to the local supermarket.
I tend to put the people we meet into three quite distinct categories (it just keeps me amused).
Firstly, there’s the people who don’t bat an eyelid at a little boy in a red wheelchair, flapping his arms, making strange noises, and shaking his head wildly - they nod, smile, pass a polite comment ‘cool wheels’ or ‘great smile’ – they’re my favourite type of people. Life is normal when we encounter people like that.
The second group are those people that even in the 21st Century still seem amazed that disabled children are allowed out into our communities. These are the ones I have most fun with.
There are the ones who stare, not just looking for slightly longer than is polite, I mean they really stare, they stare so intently that they walk into lampposts, cars or other people.
I’ll often exclaim very loudly to my son (who is completely oblivious to this by the way) “Oh my goodness that lady in the red coat thinks you’re gorgeous!” which causes much embarrassment to them and amusement to me.
Along similar lines are the parents who quickly pull their inquisitive children away from my child. I’d like to tell them it’s not contagious, and in fact if they stopped and explained to their child a little bit about disability that might help them grow into well-rounded and accepting young people – but these people are normally gone before I get a chance.
The Terribly Nice (emphasis on ‘terribly’)
And finally, there’s the group of people who consider themselves to be so ‘disability friendly’ that they make a beeline for me and my child. These people are the worst type of people to meet and they have the ability to spoil our days out.
They tell me about some random, distant relative with a learning difficulty; they ask inappropriate questions about my child’s disability and his future – questions I struggle to contemplate myself let alone share with a complete stranger.
They wax lyrical about how amazing we must be (we aren’t), they ask how do we cope, without waiting for the answer. They cause my child to get distressed as they try to hold his hands (which he hates) and make me stand still (which he also hates) – they upset my day.
On one occasion, a man brought his dog up to my son and said ‘he’s brilliant with kids like yours, he used to be one of those therapy dogs’. The dog then started barking loudly and snapped at another dog walking past resulting in a sensory meltdown from my little boy and an abandoned family day out at the beach!