Coming on up.

9 Jan

 Julie wrote a post about disclosure when it comes to if your kids have something wrong with them, be it autism or developmental delays or what have you.Her take is that you should, that in all fairness to all involved, it’s usually best to come out and say it.

While in theory I agree with this, something is sticking in my craw.

After my mother died, kids were told to play with me, invite me to parties, all that jazz, because I was different and something bad happened. (Not an exact parallel, but it will suffice) I could smell that pity a mile away. I KNEW I was the odd one out. I knew I was only there on sufferance. They didn’t want me around. I was odd, strange, and likely threatening to them. What if I caused their Mom to die too?

It wore off in about a week.

Anyone giving me a “pass” for what had happened only served to make me feel more and more isolated than I already did. I wanted things to be normal. I wanted to be expected to fit in, to behave, to not unleash my rages and my tears on everyone, even if I was depressed as all get out. I didn’t want the soft voice of reason reaching out to other children. It was the same for children with learning disabilities-everyone knew about it, everyone had it explained to them, and no one wanted to go anywhere near them. If our parents or teachers weren’t hovering around, we had absolutely no desire to be around, even if we rationally knew that Mikey was mean because something was wrong with his head. He was still mean!

And Mikey knew the score too. Anytime I’d try and befriend someone who was cast aside, it would end rather predictably in them lashing out and me saying “the hell with this shit”. My empathy couldn’t defeat the usual human urge to back away from things that are perceived to be dangerous.

Which isn’t to say that all kids with mental or physical issues are dangerous. Quite the contrary. But sitting outside the norm of what you’re “trained” to experience and interact with, they may seem to be a threat. Kids are generally a little smarter about following their gut on stuff like this.

Is it fair? Hells no. Will it stop if everyone has the disorders explained to them? Doubtful. Even as an adult, I’ve explained my bipolar to people, and I STILL feel the stares and the concern of those around me when I have a bad day, and I’m perhaps cussing more than usual. They are scared. Not of what I told them, but of what they think they know. Their perception of me. I will deal every day with the perception that I am unbalanced, unpredictable, and possibly hostile. I choose to ignore that, as I chose to ignore the girls who were ordered to be nice to me.

I also have this knee jerk sense that for a kid who has developmental issues, the knowledge that your mother sat and explained what would seem like all your dirty laundry may be a bit disconcerting and perhaps even depressing. I have this image of a mother explaining for 30 minutes how Johnny can’t do this, and needs to do that while Johnny is perfectly ok in the other room, playing and interacting in his own way. Without the benefit of warning.

Real life for these children will not include warning signs or labels. It will be full of strangers who will make assumptions from possibly one encounter with the child. Is it better to learn how to integrate and succeed in a world not necessarily suited to you at 6 or 7, or is it better to wait until you’re 16 or 18? Are labels, and diagnosis helping anyone, truly?

There was always something wrong with me, something off. I couldn’t make friends like other kids. I played differently. I was different. But no one labeled me, or gave me any type of warning to hand out to others-and I learned how to properly interact out of necessity, despite whatever was brewing in my brain at that point. I’ve often wondered if we aren’t better off trying to treat more kids as “normal” instead of labeling them so everyone has an excuse. While some kids are sick, some are still just kids. And I fear a world so rife with labels.

This is likely making me sound much more callous than I am. But my concern stretches out to a group of children who suffer under “poor thing” syndrome, and I wonder what their lives will be like in 20 years. Will they learn how to interact with our world, or will they expect everyone to stop for them,  and “get” them?

Do we make children stronger, or weaker by letting their illness or delays define them? Is a mother really a ballbreaker for saying ” Treat them like any other child.”?

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7 Responses to “Coming on up.”

  1. Netter January 9, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    I don’t know much more about the author than what I just read in her post, but I think the assumption that her daughter should play with or be friends with everyone in her class is naive. Yes, her daughter should be polite and respectful of differences and not shun children, but she’s not ever going to be friends with everyone she meets. Yes, parents should share information when their child is spending time in someone’s house (if you’re not comfortable sharing information about a child’s diagnosis with someone, perhaps you shouldn’t leave your child with them). But, to say that we have to know everyone’s diagnoses so we know how to play together is ridiculous. School’s not just about books and snacks and recess, at all levels it’s about learning how to navigate social interaction. Whether that’s my son knowing at pre-school that circle time means sitting criss-cross applesauce and listening or that in middle school some kids just aren’t going to want to hang with you. I may be over simplifying things, but I do think it’s as simple as we can live peacefully and respectfully together without being BFF.

  2. amateurish January 9, 2008 at 11:19 am #

    I think there is a thin line between being understanding of a child’s differences, limitations, or flaws and not letting that stand in the way of the chance for friendship and acceptance and flat our being a “pity friend”. It’s a difficult concept to explain to a child – but particularly when they are veru young, I think children can be very accepting and it’s better to let them work things out on their own (to a point) because often they are more genuine and kind that adults.

  3. bromac January 9, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    When I first started reading, I hesitated. My issue is the continuation of the very false idea that “ignorance is bliss”. That, aren’t we heping to continue the false interpretations of differences by not addressing them with our children. And while many of us know that it won’t take meeting someone with differences to take the responsibility to explain to our children how to treat others, but many other children could benefit from knowing and understanding about people outside their microcosm.

    But this point was stellar.

    Real life for these children will not include warning signs or labels. It will be full of strangers who will make assumptions from possibly one encounter with the child.

    So, perhaps it is somewhere in the middle. I don’t know. I know all I can do is try to educate my own child, and my students, as to being compassionate citizens who do not, in fact, judge based on one encounter.

  4. Mad Hatter January 9, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    I think that as adults we like to come up with sound reasons for everything. My daughter is currently being wailed on at day care by a rambunctious kid who may or may not have ADHD. When my daughter complains about it, I see myself replying in all those coded ways that I frankly do not know if they are right or wrong or like all things just muddy: “Sarah doesn’t have as many words as you do and sometimes that makes her a hitting girlie. Sarah is a sweet girl with a big heart who just needs to learn how to play with other kids…” Blah, blah, blah. Kids don’t look for those reasons. Miss M alternately wants to run from Sarah or just haul off and deck her good. Sometimes I just want to deck her myself but I never say that. ‘Cause I’m not supposed to. I do tell my daughter that she does not have to tolerate being hit.

  5. Marcy January 9, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    To me it seems we can give the relevant information without necessarily including the labels and diagnoses. It should be sufficient to say “so and so likes to play this way,” or whatever. After all, all kids have their preferences and quirks — and it is important to know about and understand them.

  6. misspudding January 9, 2008 at 3:36 pm #

    While not exactly the same thing as bipolar, I was profoundly hearing impaired as a child (still am) and went to school in the public school district. Practically every year between 1st and 6th grade, they’d test us all for hearing loss. Each time, I got a special card and had to go to a special testing area, just so they “could be sure”, even though I’d had plenty of sessions with audiologists and ear/nose/throat specialists. It was like being paraded in a circus…though I know the adult were trying to be nice.

    I had to sit in the front of the class, which, as any school age child knows, is death. No getting to sit with your friends, unless you were lucky enough to have a teacher who did assigned seating. That was always a godsend because then I didn’t have to explain.

    Anyway, long story short, the kids actually never got an explanation from any adults as to “what was wrong with me” but the situation still pegged me as a freak, which, in hindsight, probably made me smarter and gave me more opportunities. I feel for the kids who have these physical and mental handicaps, because kids just do not understand why people are different from them if it’s not a subtle difference.

    Still, I thank the FSM that I wasn’t seriously overweight as a kid. Now THOSE kids have it rough. 😦

  7. radical mama January 11, 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    Yes, I think labels and diagnosing can be helpful when it is done for the right reasons. Kids with certain disabilities learn differently and it could help the teachers or child care giver to know his/her condition. That doesn’t have to mean special treatment and it doesn’t have go beyond parent-teacher confidentiality.

    I also don’t think that young children need to be so exposed to “real life.” Supporting them and loving them, and encouraging others to do the same, will help them develop the confidence to deal with “real life” and not always being accepted or accomodated.

    You’ve said before that your boss has been unbelievably supportive of your bipolar diagnosis. Is that special treatment? No. It is your boss understanding that you have a medical condition and her appreciating you enough to work with it. She may not have “put up with” (can’t think of a better way to put that) some of your ups and downs if she had not known. Maybe I am wrong. I am saying this based on some of your posts.

    Labels are sometimes hindering, but they also educate general society and increase acceptance of people with different abilities and needs and experiences.

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