Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Disney Pass: From the Mouth of a Child

Thank you to the mother who posted this on the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Circle...

Posted on Mon, April 28, 2008
Encountering someone different
By Dan Gottlieb
What is your first instinct when you see someone who is disfigured, deformed or just plain different? To look away? To react by rote?

Many years ago, waiting to meet a colleague, I was sitting in the lobby of Hahnemann Hospital, my briefcase on my lap, drinking a cup of coffee - when a woman in an obvious hurry walked by and put a dollar in my cup! She clearly didn't see a man in a wheelchair. She saw someone who was "different," and responded quickly.

I tell this story frequently because it teaches us so much about ourselves. Our brains are hardwired to react instantly to members of our species who don't look or behave the way they "should." When we encounter someone with a disfigured body or acting in ways that don't fit the expected norm, we feel distress.

It happens so fast that we don't even know what we're feeling. Our first instinct, however, is to find a way to diminish our distress. That's why, when I go into a restaurant, the hostess will often ask my companion, "Where would he like to sit?" The hostess makes eye contact with my companion in order to lessen the stress of facing someone who is "different."

Sometimes our reaction to the distress takes the form of anger or harsh judgment. Parents of children on the autism spectrum (this happened frequently to me with Jordan) tell me that when their child becomes agitated in a public place, they frequently get critical looks or even patronizing comments. The reason: Affixing blame can help diminish distress caused by the unusual behavior of others. It makes the world feel more orderly.

There is a price, however, and not only for the person who is judged or ignored. Stress is a symptom; diminishing it by judging, criticizing or ignoring others is merely a form of symptom relief, like having a stiff drink.

So what can we do? Since stress is hardwired, allow yourself to simply experience the stressful feelings without trying to avoid them. Make eye contact if you can. (This gets easier with practice, as anyone who works with disabled people can tell you.)

I have always believed that if you look in someone's eyes, you can find their humanity - and in that process, you can learn more about your own. If that woman in Hahnemann's lobby had been able to look into my eyes, she would have seen a fellow human, a quadriplegic who in fact has a great deal in common with her.

And one other thing about those of us who look or act different. My grandson Sam, who is on the autism spectrum, is almost 8 years old. He is generally doing well in first grade but still struggles in some areas. Recently he had some classwork that he didn't understand. Embarrassed about his difficulty, he took his book home without asking his teacher. When he spoke to his mother, not only was he embarrassed about not understanding the homework, he also felt guilty about taking the book home.

In order to assuage Sam's guilt, his mom explained: "Sam, they have a special piece of paper at school that says when you have trouble with your work, you can ask the teacher and she will give you extra help. And if you still have trouble, she will call me and I will help also."

But Sam didn't feel better. He began to cry: "Mommy, I don't want a special piece of paper."

Sam speaks for most everyone who is "different." None of us really wants that special piece of paper.


mishkazena said...

I would like to offer a different perspective on people looking accusingly or angry when an autistic kid acts out in the public, since I've worked with austistic kids in the past. Many people don't realize these kids have disorders. They see a kid out of control and they immediately think a spoiled bratty kid who needs to be disciplined, and of course they blame the parent. They don't automatically think that the kid may be handicapped.

But other than that, what you said is often true. I remember a story where a woman repelled at the presence of a small child with severe cp eating in a restaurant, actually walked to the manager and demanded that the child be removed from the site. Can you believe the audacity of that slimebag? The manager refused, stating that the child has every right to be there. Do you know what happened? The other customers actually clapped and the enraged woman stormed out of the restaurant. I would think it's a minority who feels this way while the majority feels compassionate.

Oh, by the way, yes a parent with an austistic kid should be using a special pass. In fact, it is strongly recommended. The austistic kids have a very low tolerance for frustration and exposure to too much stimulations.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting article. Learning something new. Use our good manners.

I will have to send this to my friend who has a daughter that have the mild autistic and epilepsy.

However, this sexual tension have affected me not to send it to my friend. I honestly do not want to embarrass my friend.

White Ghost

Unknown said...

White Ghost,
Hi sweetheart. You may now send this to your friend.

Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

White Ghost and Jodi ..

I am sorry you had to witness that exchange.

My apologies.



Anonymous said...

Thanks and Hugs. :-)

White Ghost

Anonymous said...

A friend has a child with severe autism. There isn't much support in our state for families dealing with this. It's been so hard on them. They have to keep locks on all the windows and doors to keep him from escaping cuz he'll walk miles down the middle of the road. The mother is deaf and can't always hear him when he's climbing around. Occasionally he has gotten out through a crawl space. Neighbors think they're weird of course, so they've been reported to CPS more than once. Luckily authorities understand the problem.

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

kim... that is more common than you may know. just today was talking to someone about a mom w/ an almost teen w/ autism. they homeschool. we're trying to get them back into the world just a wee bit. at the same time i'm ready myself to crawl into a shell. it is just toooo hard on some days w/ a child w/ autism. school here fails our kids daily. say disney and most say..yea right. (I do know of someone who DID go to Disney w/ AI kid- they kid tantrum and security was called...thinking it was a kidnapping parents were asked to prove it was their child. Mum was prepared.. she had documention, pictures and even an IEP. When the child was asked if this was their parents what do you think the child said LOL??!!