Recently, I was asked the title question by a child who was playing with Caden. I was shocked. Were my feelings hurt? Absolutely not! I was impressed. The child was sincere, and she had a legitimate question. A question I had not considered that made perfect sense. I just hadn’t thought of that interpretation. I was the only adult sitting at a table of children. All the children stopped eating and looked at me waiting on the answer. They wanted a direct answer from the horse’s mouth. In this case, I was the horse. I was Caden’s Mom, so they felt confident I would have the answers.
What did I do? I answered her question honestly. I explained Caden is trying to learn to speak English. I listed the words he can plainly say, and I asked if she would help teach him some new words. My honest answer created a question storm, and I couldn’t have been happier! I answered each openly and honestly. Some questions were tough to answer; nevertheless, each warranted a response. The children craved knowledge about Caden. Children are curious by nature.
Many years ago I sat with a little boy at a funeral. The service was about to start when he looked up at me wide-eyed and asked, “What did they do with her legs?!” He was sincere. The casket closed perfectly seamed at the waist. I had never looked at a casket from that perspective. In a few seconds, I was able to explain the mechanics of a casket. Surprisingly, it made sense to him.
That same curiosity was evident in these children.
Caden looks different. But, surprisingly, the children commented on how he looked like other kids they had seen at the Buddy Walk or kids at their school. If I was Caden’s mom and Charles was Caden’s dad, why did he look like all those other kids? Good question.
Caden plays differently. Why does Caden throw stuff at them? Another good question, and one I could not fully answer. I admitted that I wasn’t sure why he was so taken with throwing objects. My assumption he is telling them he wants to play. However, I explained Caden understands “No” and “I don’t like that.” This developed into a discussion on modeling appropriate behaviors. One child said, “So, I shouldn’t knock over this flower pot, because Caden would think it is OK to knock over the flower pot.” Simple, yet absolutely correct.
Caden is different. Each pointed out things (appearance, behaviors, etc.) they deemed “different” about Caden. As they looked at him, Caden had a chocolate covered face from the donut he was eating. He smiled at them. Then, we all laughed. I went around the table and talked about each of their differences. One said he is better at math than baseball. Another said he is better at playing outside than sitting still. And the list went on and on. I ended with, “So, we are all different, right?” Each little face looked at me and smiled, even the chocolate covered face. One child said, “And, it’s OK to be different!” True. How boring it would be to see such uniformity!
Children have questions. I encourage you to ask when you see perplexed faces. You might be amazed at what is going through their minds. You can use resources available to help you find the answers. I am giving each child a coloring book about Down syndrome located at http://www.dsnetworkaz.org/PDF/coloring-book.pdf. I hope the book will reinforce our conversation. If you think a children’s book would best answer questions, look for books like We’ll Paint the Octopus Red located at http://woodbinehouse.com/main.asp_Q_product_id_E_1-890627-06-2_A_.asp.
Questions are meant to be thought-provoking. Some may cause unknown emotions. However, by taking a moment to answer one question for one child, you are creating a ripple in the future of disability acceptance. One day that child may stand up to a bully on the playground who is picking on a child with a disability. One day that child may employ someone with a disability. One day that child may adopt a child with a disability. One day that child may look back and smile remembering the Mom who explained to her why Caden doesn’t speak English. And, that makes me smile.