Dear Barb—Disabling Sensitivity

Dear Barb:

I am the mother of a young daughter with a physical disability. Throughout her young life she has had numerous surgeries and she has been a real trooper. She never seemed to let her situation get her down until recently. Now she doesn’t want to participate in any activities that she did before. When people ask her how she is, she just bursts out crying. We were both out at a mall the other day and an old friend came up to us and when noticing my daughters arm, reacted by saying “OMG what happened?” Again Angela burst out in tears. I really wish people would be more sensitive as to how they approach situations like this. Don’t they realize that they are bringing negative attention to the child and of course the child is going to react? My husband says I am overreacting, but I don’t think so, I really think people should think before they speak. I feel I should say something to these people, but my husband tells me to just ignore it, what do you think? Thanks, Julia.

Hi Julia:

People are naturally curious. For the most part I think your husband is right, ignore it, but, ultimately, it’s up to you whether you decide to engage with. If you feel they are truly interested, and you have the time, explain your daughter’s disability. If you feel they are just being nosey and rude, don’t say anything to them. Also, it depends on whether the person is a family member, close friend, or stranger. Your reaction will be different in each situation. With a family member you would most likely take the time to describe in detail the situation, whereas with a stranger, you may give a brief explanation. The most important thing is for you to support your daughter and help her to feel good about herself, so she can deal with this negative attention. Talk to your daughter to prepare her for when these kinds of reactions may occur. For example, at a new school, a public place, anywhere that she will be meeting new people. Teach her to feel good about herself and accept her disability.  Perhaps you could look into a support group for children who have similar disabilities, where she can share her feelings and see that there are other people who feel the same as she does. As well others in the group may be able to offer advice on how they handle these kinds of situations. Most importantly teach your child that the disability is not who she is, it is something that she has.  As illustrated in the media, many people overcome disabilities and go on to lead successful happy lives, as long as they are given the proper tools to deal with their disability.

Thanks for your letter, Julia.

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