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Judged Based on Appearance: What to do when it is your child with special needs.

Updated: Jun 18



All human beings should come equipped with a gavel because we are expert judges. We should be, we make 100's of the them every day. We judge to fit what we see and experience into tidy categories that help decrease uncertainty. Categories and labels serve as efficient file boxes within our brains that sort sensory input. Without them, we would be overwhelmed by the shear volume of incoming "stuff". (Kind of like how I feel about the mess in the garage when we unload after a camping trip.) The problem occurs when this evolutionary sorting system limits our kids with special needs simply because of how they look, move, or sound.


In this moment, when our country is on fire because of prejudging and profiling black people I am reminded of how people with special needs are also judged. I am not suggesting that the consequences of the judging are the same in both cases. Kids who have been labeled "different" due to genetics or trauma are not typically subjected to violence, but there is a parallel in that both result in oppression that comes from being judged based on appearance.

"You only have to look at him to know that there is something wrong with him." An acquaintance made this comment regarding my 19 year-old's fitness for a college internship for which he had applied.

Many of the conditions our children experience including ADHD, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and attachment disorder cause real challenges but have no physical component. However, when our children experience conditions or syndromes that cause them to look, move, or sound even a little bit outside the "norm", they are visited with increased levels of prejudice.


"You only have to look at him to know that there is something wrong with him" Yep, another adult, a fellow parent, unapologetically offered that comment to me about my son. Over the years he has been assumed to be inept, retarded, unclean, unfit and even a predator all because he appears "different". In every one of these instances the "judge" has been wrong. My son is smart, kind, thoughtful, (showers regularly) and is Capable!

It has been my experience that there is a special kind of heart break that is reserved for judgments that arise from how our children “look”. Painful as it is, it does not have to make you fearful or limit your goals for your child. This my advice when people want to pronounce your child "guilty" based on appearance:


First:

Realize that your kid is going to be judged. You will hear insensitive, unkind comments. It happens.


Second:

Decide how you want to respond: Educate or Ignore.


Whether you choose to educate or ignore depends on how you regard the person who has offered the comment. If they are a stranger, you may decide that it is not worth your time. In that case, let it go. But if the "judge" is an acquaintance, friend, teacher, or someone you respect, "take one for the team" and use the moment to educate. Your actions may spare another parent some pain in the future.


Here is an easy 2 sentence response that works:


"I know that _________ looks, (moves or talks) differently, but that does not determine her worth, (intelligence, ability, or fitness for the job, etc.). You will see that as you get to know her better."


Third:

This is the most important step and the one that is the hardest for us: Put your kid right back out there and let her continue to be herself. Over time, her presence will stifle the judges. She will show the world what she can do.



Next Time

We will talk more about raising Capable kids.



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