A Child’s Profound View About Disabilities Stirs this Mom.

by Joanne Bastante-Howard

Recently a friend shared her daughter’s seventh-grade essay with me about how she viewed children with disabilities. As I read each line of text, I was inspired by her vision.

“In my life I have helped many people in need,” she began. “For example, I am currently helping children with disabilities by being a mentor. I do not think of these children as below me but as my equal.”

This teenager continued to explain, “I see that they are human and not just someone who looks “funny” or talks differently. On the inside they are children of God, just like me. They should never be made fun of because of their appearance…I accept them not because I need to, but because I want to.”

“I feel it is my job to be a friend to everyone, regardless of his or her outward appearance. I choose to accept them and I am enjoying every minute of it!” she concluded.

This child got me reminiscing about my own teenage years. I remember having an immense interest in helping the underdog—the kid on the playground who no one picked to play team sports or the punk-rock girl in high school English who wore funky clothes and dyed her hair pink.

I learned to admire these kids that marched to a beat of their own drum. Others simply stood by and judged them based on their outward appearance.

I genuinely took the time to get to know my eccentric friends and always enjoyed learning from them. I can honestly say that I share the same sentiment as my friend’s daughter. I am better for knowing my extraordinary friends.

Fast forward

It’s more than 20 years since high school and I am a mother of a little boy with Down syndrome. My heart has been tugged in an even more personal way. I have developed a strong affinity for individuals with Down syndrome and a wide range of disabilities and medical conditions. My new found underdogs, or as I prefer to call them “heroes,” are enriching my life in new ways. I would have missed out on these opportunities had I never taken the time to get to know the children and their families.

You might say that my eyes and heart have been opened to the needs of all people struggling through challenges of everyday life. I have met parents who have never seen their sons or daughters walk, talk, and throw a ball or even dance. As a parent of a special needs child, I know how desperately these parents would love to hear from their family and friends, “How are you today? Can I help you with…. Or, can I bring you a cup of coffee?” These families desperately need someone to pick up the phone and tell them how much they are loved. Instead, most people quickly get off the phone and avoid asking about the child. It is not the child’s disability that is heartbreaking; it is the indifferent reaction from others.

No man or woman is an island.

We need each other folks. There is so much more to each one of us than meets the eye.

The questions I pose to you: Will you stop to acknowledge those around you who are struggling with disabilities and health issues? Will you commit to looking beyond their external appearances and look deeper for their unique gifts? Lastly, will you stand with me to help these families?

Together, we can make a real difference one person at a time.

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