So today I’m at the grocery store where a wonderful young man named Patrick was my bagger. I noticed him when I walked in, as he was out corralling carts upon my arrival. By the time I was done shopping, he had moved on to bagging. He was a good looking young man – immediately recognizable as possessing the same extra chromosome that my little Henry has. He was good at his job. He greeted me, bagged my stuff really well, asked me if I needed help to my car, doubled-bagged the stuff that needed it and told me he was doing that. I was really impressed with his work. I thanked him and went on my way. I noticed that he didn’t make much (if any) eye contact and that made me think. I wonder if people with delays have been conditioned to try to blend into the background. Don’t look at people, don’t talk beyond the essentials, etc. I wonder.
Then I started thinking about us. The “neurotypical” masses and how we interact with and react to people with some sort of disability. Why do we even NEED to be taught how to interact. That we need to treat them like people? Why do we have some sort of visceral, gut reaction when we see someone who’s different? In general, we stare while trying not to stare. We try to look like we’re not even noticing them. If we don’t know them, we certainly don’t engage them in conversation like we would with other people we encounter during our day. Sometimes, if we do communicate with them, we find ourselves talking more slowly, more loudly, more simply – even if the person doesn’t have any sort of hearing or cognitive disability. If it’s someone in a wheelchair or using an assist to walk, we totally avoid the elephant in the room. Like we’re afraid to point it out in case they don’t already know. But….y’know what? They know.
But my thought is – where does this come from? Why do we feel or react this way? What are we afraid of?? It’s not like by interacting with people who are somehow different from us we’ll “catch” something. We can’t catch Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy or autism or someone’s gross motor injury. I wish I knew how this developed in us. Why we go out of our way to avoid people like this. Why we don’t treat those people exactly the same way we’d treat anyone else with whom we come in contact? I don’t get it. Why don’t we just talk to the person bagging our groceries or corralling carts or greeting us at Wal-Mart? I’m not even talking about people who make fun of, ridicule or behave hatefully towards others. I’m just talking about how we IGNORE these people.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not putting myself out here as somehow better than everyone else. Because I have those same feelings – and I don’t understand it. Now that I have Henry I find myself making an effort to get past it, but the feelings are still there. And I don’t get where they came from. It’s weird and uncomfortable and makes me mad. Because I want to be able to walk up to someone with Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy or ALS or some other noticeable delay or disability and just talk to them like I would anyone else.