Blog post written by Jamie Jackson, Joyner Elementary School parent
In recognition of WCPSS Disability History and Awareness Month, I wanted to share with you what living with a disability is like for our family, in hopes that it will give you and your families useful strategies for interacting with people with disabilities.
I was recently visiting my child’s school when, upon learning whose parent I was, my child’s classmates were eager to share his struggles with me. I heard some phrases such as “doesn’t listen” and “doesn’t do his work,” among others. It really struck me how acutely my child’s classmates notice and point out his differences, even just a few weeks into the school year.
To provide some background, my child is transitioning from a setting where 12 out of 12 students in his class had various disabilities. We quickly grew accustomed to lots of understanding and support from other parents, all of our teachers, and all of the other students too. This school year is my child’s first in a mainstream classroom. Although he is adjusting well, after visiting the school, it made me wonder how he copes with the onslaught of social and academic expectations that he may not even understand.
If I could say something directly to his classmates and their parents, it would be: We are ALL uniquely capable, which is the theme of this year’s Disability History and Awareness Month.
We should all expect to interact with people with disabilities every day. We often cannot see the disability with our eyes and we may wonder if we come across people with disabilities very often. I can assure you that you do! If we all anticipate that we will interact with people with different abilities than our own, we will likely view our days through a softer lens: with much more understanding, patience, and a helping attitude.
People with disabilities desire acceptance and kindness. My child loves friends who will slow down their pace so that he can more successfully interact with them. He feels the compassion of those who patiently keep trying to understand him if he struggles to share his perspective. Sometimes people with disabilities behave in unexpected ways, and it’s so helpful for them to have the space to interact with the others in ways that build their confidence and allow them to have just a few successes each day.
My child recently participated in a dance performance at school and, while he may have struggled more than some of the other children, it was a huge success for him that he was able to participate. Most importantly, he had fun! He loved the “thumbs up” and “high fives” he received from the staff. We felt very happy to see his smiles, and we beamed with pride as he did something that was harder for him than it might be for some other children.
It’s true that families with disabilities hope that you have these conversations in your home and that you also that you model this acceptance in your own interactions with the variety of people you meet every day. The interactions that I remember most when I am with my child are the ones that encourage him to be himself and to feel that he is liked and loved.