Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Being Different

It's amazing how sometimes we become so used to being around something that it becomes second nature and normal. When in fact, to others it's so not normal and is SO different that it makes others uncomfortable.

Today I started my summer job of working with Ethie's family a couple days a week. Today's agenda: the museum of nature and science with Annie and the kiddos. First stop: the space odyssey room.

In one of the little space adventures rooms for kids, it resembled the moon with a little crater containing moonrocks (little rocks made of black styrofoam) in which kids could put on adorable little space suits and run around driving a spaceship and then gathering moonrocks and/or throwing them in the crater.

After all my time this year with Ethie, there is nothing foreign to me about wheelchairs, braces, orthopedics, walkers, etc. There's nothing abnormal to me about being around someone with any of this equipment and I don't stare at it, ask questions, nor even really recognize the exceptions one has to make in terms of space/time/etc. Well with Ethan I forget all about this naturally. I wheeled him into the room and not wanting to take him out of his wheelchair to only three minutes later put him back in, he pushed up to the crater and I handed him moonrocks to throw in there. Ethan loves throwing, loves being a boy, and loves to rough/tumble and laugh his heart out.

One little boy came up to me and started asking questions. The first one being "Is he sick?" in which after it taking me aback I replied "No, he's not sick."

Little Boy: "Why's he in a wheelchair?"
Me: "The wheelchair is his legs."
Little Boy: "Why's he throwing like that?"
Me: "Throwing like what?"
Little Boy: "Throwing all funny and wrong..."
Me: "He's not throwing funny, this is how he likes to throw."
Little Boy: "But he's throwing wrong."
Me: "Everyone throws differently sweetie. But he loves to throw this way, it makes him happy."
Little Boy: (with a very gawking and discerning expression on his face) "He's different."
Me: "He's just a little different from you. But he's just like you."

A few minutes later when out of the room I asked Annie if she had heard the exchange and she said yes. I asked how she normally answered these questions and if there's any particular way she wants me to answer. See, I'm totally used to this and so is Annie, and so are the kiddos in our classroom. I haven't had to answer these questions to date. So it was weird. Like I said, for me it's completely normal.

Annie said that my answers were perfectly fine and they there's really no right way to answer them, especially with children who aren't used to it. She then proceeded to tell me that people gawk at him a lot (which I can more understand) but that it's happened frequently where people will come up and touch his head and pray for him. People have come up and told Annie they were sorry and one man came up and held onto Ethan's hand and started crying and freaked Ethan out.

Holy foreign world to me.

I will admit, I wasn't always this atuned to being around people with disabilities or special needs or's become normal since high school as I've had tons of exposure with different people and different disabilities. In high school while lifeguarding, I consistently encountered a man who came to the pool in a wheelchair and needed help with the pool lift and whatnot. I've had friends who have had prosthetic legs, I've helped out at a camp for people with disabilities at the age of 13, the mail guy at CSU had cerebral palsy and was wheelchair-bound, etc. It's normal. I know these people aren't breakable, it's nothing that different.

But even before then I never gawked at these people in the negative way that I see SO many others doing. I stared, pure fascination because differences fascinate me. I wanted to educate myself and learn more and I was always fascinated that these other people overcame these differences to be normal like me. I loved seeing people in wheelchairs being able to maneuver themselves easier in a wheelchair and faster than I could with two healthy legs. I enjoyed learning that those with cognitive disabilities had senses of humor and had wonderful smiles, etc. I loved getting to know the people behind the disability, and yes I stared out of fascination of these individuals.

But holy smokes, most people are not very understanding nor loving nor comfortable around others with these differences. In fact if they aren't asking sorta mean questions or acting as though these people aren't really people, they usually just stay far away with a look of fear.

Today I was reminded how different most people think Ethan is when in fact he's not different at all. He's smart....he knows his colors and shapes and alphabet. He loves to explore and play with things. He loves to rough/tumble and get dirty. He loves playing ball and fighting with his twin brother. He gives others hugs and shows a look of concern when someone is crying or upset. He laughs when you play silly games with him. He hates being in his wheelchair if given a choice to be out and loves running around with assistance. He loves art and coloring and playing cars. You don't have to talk to him any differently than you'd talk to any other four-year-old. He's not dumb, his body is just a step behind his mind.

I wish that others would learn that those who are different are really not so different nor anyone to be scared of. They aren't a thing or any less human than we are. They were just made limited edition :-) They are just as amazing and important as we are. And there is nothing different about needing some assistance in life. We all need assistance...they just need a different form of assistance.

Like I said, to me being around people who are "different" is so second nature it's nothing whereas to most others I realize they aren't around the same people I'm around. However, I wish the world was more understanding and less afraid of differences of all sorts. We'd all be the better for it!