Look me in the eye.

The other week I attended a workshop designed to help understand and support children with ‘disabilities’. As a mum with a daughter diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, as a volunteer for Riding for the Disabled, for me ‘disability’ is not something to be fixed, it’s a different way of being. As with all children, we help them grow by encouraging them to do what they need to do in everyday life, to participate, to be their best using their strengths.

Talking about sensory sensitivity, a question was asked about eye contact and the social expectation that whenever we meet someone we need to look them in the eye. I remembered my daughter telling me how challenging it was to do that – eye contact for her sometimes hurts, it can feel like an electric shock. And, who knows, perhaps it can be the same for other children who are simply shy. The question is … why do we insist on it … in spite of who our children are?

Why is it that there is discrimination against children with ‘hidden disabilities’, with some expecting those with ASD to do things they wouldn’t ask of a physically ‘disabled’ child? Would we expect, for example, a child in a wheelchair to walk up stairs?

Many parents struggle because their children are ‘disabled’, and part of that struggle can be around being seen themselves to be disabled simply because they have ‘disabled’ children!

It’s all about appearance rather than the significance of who people are. We need to see the individual, not the ‘disability’, see with our heart.

In the end, I’d like to think that people who care will get the message whether you look them in the eye or not; and that environments can be adapted so that children can achieve what they want to achieve. How can we use flexibility and adaptability?

If we are to create a new world, accepting difference is a great place to start; and perhaps we need to look at how we can live with care and compassion for all.

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