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- Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Recently, there was a cry for help in an online autism support group. A mother shared that she believes her husband hates their autistic son. She said her husband is harsh and impatient with the child and never wants to spend time or do anything with their son. Over the years, I have come across a few people that have family members who will not take an interest in a family member with disabilities. They don’t understand the disability and they don’t seem to want to understand it. Some of my friends have told me that their family members don’t want to be around or get to know their children with disabilities. Unfortunately, this sometimes includes grandparents. It makes me very sad for everyone involved.
When you first hear of this you might think those people are hateful, ignorant and intolerant, but what they are truly projecting is fear. They do not like things that scare them and so they project fear as dislike or hatred. If you were to ask them why they dislike a person with disabilities they would either deny it, be unable to come up with an answer, or they would come up with an excuse about the person’s behavior, which they feel justifies their dislike. Most people don’t even realize they are feeling fear and would probably not recognize it unless they analyzed their emotions on a deeper level. I can relate to them.
I used to fear people with disabilities and I knew I was feeling fear. I used to fear anyone who I perceived was different than me and although I never disliked people with disabilities, I sometimes thought I was feeling dislike and even hatred for people with other types of differences. It turned out that fear was the only emotion I felt when I really took a good, honest look at it. There was a man in our town who dressed like a woman and seeing him scared the hell out of me. I knew I was feeling fear when I saw him, but I also felt disgusted by him and angry that he walked around looking that way. My mind chatter went crazy each time I saw him. I had no understanding of what he was going through and I did not want to understand it. All I knew was that I did not want him near me. I thought he chose to be that way. I thought he intended to scare people and to get a reaction out of them. I had no idea there were people with gender identity issues, as most people did not know about it back then. I never once stopped to consider things from his point of view. I never considered how he might feel deep down inside and that maybe there was no choice for him. I thought he enjoyed the reactions even though they were never positive and I truly believed he would go home and revel in the memory of the reactions he was able to get out of people. I did not want to think about him, but every time I saw him he stayed in my mind for days. Each time I thought about him the fear would rise up in me again and quickly turn to disgust and then anger. I could not understand why someone would behave that way and I did not want to learn about it because that would require me to think more about it. I just wanted to put this person out of my mind. Thankfully, I have learned about gender identity issues and I now feel love and compassion for the woman I judged. I hope she is at peace now.
It may be difficult to see the similarities in fearing someone with gender identity issues and fearing someone with disabilities, but they are very much the same. When we don’t understand something; when something is vastly different than we expected and vastly different from anything we have ever known, we can feel fear to such a degree that love alone will not overcome it, even when we don’t recognize our feelings as fear. It could be friends or family members with disabilities and a host of various reasoning that causes us to withdraw from close relationships, such as our sibling…
What will my friends think when she behaves strangely? What will I say to them? Will they laugh? Will they look down on me because my sister acts / looks this way? Will I have to defend her? I’m never going to let her get around my friends!
What if my nephew throws a tantrum at the party? Will he ruin my child’s party? He will take all the attention away from my child! I am just not going to invite them.
Why can’t my daughter just do like I taught her and discipline that kid? She lets him get away with everything. I did not raise her that way! I can’t stand to be around him when he acts like that! My friends will think I failed as a mother and a grandmother if I bring him around.
Or even our own child’s disability…
My child has a disability and I don’t know what to do! This hurts! How will I ever cope with everything? I’m her father and I can’t protect her from this! I can’t stand this pain!
I am afraid of what people will think. She’s just not making the effort to do it. If she would try harder she could do it. She is so stubborn!
These fears are overwhelming to our simple lives. It brings up within us the stuff we don’t want to face, such as our own inadequacy. Unexpected life experiences like this cause us to either grow or to retreat and too often some of us retreat into our fear. We have never been taught how to do life. When we have a baby they don’t send us home with the owner’s manual on how to care for this precious life. There is no troubleshooting guide to look in to help us cope with fear and judgment, and the people we would call for support are just as dumbfounded by this new reality as we are. Fear is our default setting. Knowing this, is it any wonder why the people we need the most to support us are staying away from it, including our spouses?
A few months ago I wrote about strangers staring at our special kids when we are out in public. I remember at times not wanting to go out and do certain things because I knew people would stare and just I did not want to feel that feeling I always got when they stared. It was that feeling of being judged and being the center of attention. I tried not to let it, but sometimes that feeling kept us at home. Over the past couple of years, I began to stop feeling that way, in part because I now understand their judgment has nothing to do with me or my child, but also because I have learned to let my feeling just be there. If the feeling arises now I acknowledge it and let it pass, reminding myself that the world won’t end because of it and the feeling won’t last forever. I remind myself that our family does not have to be like, act like, look like or sound like anyone else’s family. It is okay to be different. We are not hurting anyone and the stares are not hurting us, so we just ignore it. Previously, we would try to get Josh to sit down in restaurants when he did not want to sit with us, but now we go to a corner when there’s not a lot of people and let him stand up to eat if that is what he wants to do. What is the big deal? We are all much happier and enjoy our time out much more than before! I will never again allow the judgments of others to interfere with the enjoyment of my son or his enjoyment of life. People who judge us do not define us, they define themselves.
I don’t want to make excuses for people, but understanding the reasoning behind their behavior is half the battle of changing it. We must also understand that some people have been conditioned since childhood to view differences as bad and this may be playing a big part in their behavior. They may not be able to come to terms with the view they learned and the love they feel for the person with a disability. We may not always be able to get someone to see things differently or make them want to get involved, but at the very least it can help us to have compassion for the other person. Understanding where someone is coming from can give you insight on how to help that person alleviate their fear. It can show you what they are struggling with and how to educate them about your child. Situations like the woman who believes her husband hates their son are the reason I write this blog. It breaks my heart to know that people suffer unnecessarily in a myriad of ways when there is a family member with a disability.
The father most likely does not have feelings of hate for his son. Most likely, he is just not aware of his own fear surrounding the child’s behaviors and it shows up as dislike and avoidance. This father may not want to do things with the child because he does not know how to interact with his child and it brings out feelings of inadequacy in him. It could be frustrating for him and the child. The mother should talk to her husband and find out what he is feeling and let him know he is not alone in his feelings. Simply asking him questions could help to show him his true feelings and that could lead to more interaction between the father and son. It is worth every effort to mend a relationship and to help people find peace inside.
If you have a family member or friend who seems to have negative feelings towards someone you know, please share this post with them. The first step towards peace in our hearts and minds can start, in fact, does start with you. Until next time, My Friends, take care.
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