March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. A developmental disability is a condition that involves physical or mental impairments; it develops at a young age (before 22) and is expected to be lifelong. Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, intellectual or cognitive disability, blindness and deafness are all considered developmental disabilities, among others.
I know many people with developmental disabilities; most of them are children. Some are students from my son’s classes; some are children of parents I have met at different activities and organizations. All of them are extraordinary.
Most of them face many problems, not just with learning, but with socialization and other things that come easily to you and me. Their families also face many struggles because they try to do their best to make the lives of their children as wonderful and normal as possible. Their siblings often struggle with understanding, lack of attention (perceived or actual) and mostly just wishing that their brother or sister was typical.
The trials people with disabilities and their families face can be endless. Just recently I heard from a friend that while on vacation at a theme park, the family had to pay extra for a wheelchair for their child. Not a deposit, an actual fee, on top of what it already cost to go to the park. Is it really necessary to charge the disabled more to go there and to profit from it?
Another parent I know is struggling with her district to get her child the necessary therapies she needs. But, in budget crisis now, some districts will only allow therapies that pertain to functioning in the school environment. Never mind that the extra therapy might help her child tremendously.
Just juggling the appointments – doctors, specialists, therapists – takes families away from time spent together. Trying to work all those things together, along with the needs of their other children, is sometimes a monumental task.
I have spoken to so many parents over the years and we all have some common themes. We adore our children. We try to figure out the very best ways to help them academically and medically. We want them to have the very best education they can get, so that they can have some or even complete independence when they grow up.
Sometimes we just worry. A lot. One of our biggest worries is the future. What will our kids do when we aren’t able to take care of them? Who will be their best advocate, as we have tried to be?
What do we want the rest of the world to know? We want you to know how special our children are, even if they aren’t winning trophies or graduating at the top of their class. We want you to see the value in them, their wonderful smiles and personalities. We want you to try to understand what it might be like to not be able to see or hear or walk or communicate; to not be able to form typical friendships. When you meet our children, we want you to treat them with respect and we’d love it if you actually took the time to understand their particular disability.
We’d really love it if you could teach your own children the value of acceptance, empathy and compassion, so that they don’t even think of our child as differently abled. Mostly, we want you to be kind to our kids and care about them like we do, for what could be wrong with making our world a nicer, happier place?