A Tale of Two Kiddies – Universal Support and ‘Invisible’ Disability
I follow the blog The Happy Cripple. Recently he took a poll of what matters most content-wise to his readership. The concept of invisible disabilities as a current topic immediately struck my eye. From the depths of my brain, in the eons it’s been since I was a wee rug rat, I remembered two very different kids I went to school with.
I started my career in advocacy as a ‘voice.’ A young girl near my age was autistic and liked my chatterbox, mile-a-minute, French Canadian voice. For basic questions that she wanted to ask she ‘borrowed’ my voice. When she pressed a button on her little machine it was my voice that demanded a snack, implored for recess, and said ‘No!’ to broccoli.
It was fun to be a part of her support circle! The rural community I grew up in is tight knit and supportive. Everyone pitched in to make sure that this girl’s needs were met. One of my best friends worked with her family as a respite worker all through high school and university. This friend has since moved out of province but I know she continues to be very close with the family and the girl who is now grown into a woman.
I worked with other kids as well. One I remember in particular was a boy who was on the FAS spectrum. School was hard on that little guy. Other kids didn’t understand why he needed supports. Unlike the girl I mentioned above, you couldn’t see that this guy needed supports. Like many kids with FAS he was in the foster system and wasn’t blessed with the same kind of inbuilt supports that the little girl had. He hadn’t been in the same class since kindergarten with kids who had grown up learning to be supportive. He hadn’t had the advantage of having parents that were strong advocates for his well-being since the get go.
Tough was this little kid’s middle name. Coming from a big city school he had more aggressive coping strategies than your average elementary student at our school. He’d refined his own form of advocacy after experiencing a childhood very different than mine. Needless to say the gift of making good friends eluded him in the beginning.
I was lucky enough to have a brilliant crew of teachers at my school. They worked really hard to teach me and the rest of the kids that it isn’t about whether or not you can see a disability- it’s about support. Our teachers championed that we all have days we need more from those around us. We don’t need to see or know why! Maybe your bed feels like it has crumbs in it, you squabbled with your siblings, got your parents cranky, and forgot your homework on the slushy floor of the bus. Who knows? Those are ‘squeaky days’ where no matter what you do you can’t get things to roll smoothly. I had them then and still do from time to time!
What I took away from the experience is that it shouldn’t matter if a disability is as obvious as a smack in the face or subtle as my sister’s talent for borrowing things from my closet; support is support and we all need it. It has nothing to do with disability!
People with ‘invisible’ disabilities face unique challenges in communicating their support needs. By cultivating empathy and a culture of universal support in ourselves we build a more inclusive environment for us all. Which one of us cannot think of a day where we were grateful for a grace period on a deadline or a gracious response to an ill-timed remark? By widening our support scope to include everyone based on their needs as a person as opposed to stereotypes we begin to approach a world where people really do come first.
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