“Is something wrong with Noni?” elementary school friend Libby once asked. Her mom answered with the truth that Noni has an intellectual disability. Libby smiled with relief, “I’m so glad there’s nothing wrong with her.”
When baby boomers like me were in school, we had scant vocabulary to explain why some kids were different. Nobody talked about it in that era, and it wasn’t polite to ask.
“Crippled” was the mannerly word to describe someone with cerebral palsy. “Slow” was the expression for intellectual disability. Everything else was hush-hush.
Fast forward through the decades to now, when Chris, a sixth-grader in a new middle school, stands up to introduce himself to his new classmates and says, “Oh, by the way, I have Tourette’s Syndrome. It makes me twitch and shout out sometimes. My eye blinks a lot too, so if you ever think I’m winking at you, I‘m not. I can’t help it. It just happens. No big deal.”
And what did the sixth-graders think? Cool.
No one was left wondering. Chris’s words unmasked the mystery and led his classmates to quick understanding and acceptance.
Megan, working her first summer job as a teenager behind the counter at McDonald’s, could sense a customer was getting impatient with her. “Sir, I have attention deficit disorder. I am doing the best I can. I hope you will be just a little patient with me.”
How’s that for disarming!
In today’s era of inclusion, the conversation has switched from “what’s wrong” to “what’s different.” Kids are equipped with language to advocate for themselves and appreciate others.
Occasionally someone asks me about my daughter. I’m never offended. I value people’s interest in understanding more about her.
I’ve got nouns and verbs to describe her intellectual and motor disabilities, but I always lead with her capabilities.
She loves to work, bowl, cycle, swim, listen to music, go to dances, set the table, make her bed, watch Wheel of Fortune and guess the color of Vanna’s dress, ride in daddy’s truck, bring in the mail, take out the garbage, and put on her pajamas all by herself.
It's the adjectives, I find, that often say it best. Did I mention she’s awesome?