Gary Dietz knows you are just trying to connect. But you could try to connect with his son—as a human being—instead of adding to the feeling of marginalization by asking questions as if he doesn’t exist.
A strong shoutout to Mochadad Frederick J. Goodall for the article that inspired this response. If your child experiences a disability, just add my five to Frederick’s five. (There are a LOT more I assure you…)
When I am out with my son, we get all sorts of comments. Just like Dads of typically developing children. However, Dads of Disability get the extra sauce in this area of life as well. Here are some of the things I get asked or told.
1. What’s his diagnosis?
Well, let’s see. You are a complete stranger and you are asking about the medical, developmental, and behavioral details of my son’s life. IN FRONT OF HIM?! Let’s see. How about none of your business? I know you are just curious. I am curious about why that lady over there is wearing really inappropriate clothes too, but I am not going to ASK her.
2. I know a kid like him
Really. You know a kid “like” my son. Through a single glance, you know the hopes, dreams, challenges, ups and downs of this very complex and unique individual known as Alexander. And you know enough from that single glance to let me know that you know a kid “like him.” And even if you did, so what? You want a medal?
My favorite response to this question is “Like him? You mean you know another boy?”
3. That’s OK, I understand
When my son attempts or actually makes inappropriate contact, you’ll say “That’s OK, I understand.” Look, I know you are being nice. And patient. And I sincerely thank you for that. However, it is *not* “OK.” You should probably say, in as patient and understanding way, “You can say hello or shake hands, but I’m sure you know not to touch strangers.” (I know, it’s a lot to ask you to learn. But I have seen people react that way, so I know it is possible!) My son is a cute early teen now, but if you wouldn’t react that way when he is a 6′ late teen, you probably shouldn’t react that way now.
4. I wish I could be in that cart (wheelchair-like vehicle)
My son uses a Kid Cart when we go on longer walks or when he is really tired. I can’t count the number of times that people of all ages, genders, and walks of life have said to me or my son “I wish I could be sitting there!”
Really? You wish you needed an adaptive device to have mobility?
5. My grandson has autism too
First of all, how do you know my son has autism? And even if he did, why do I need to know your grandson had autism too? Look, I understand you are trying to make a connection with us. Maybe even a special one. If you do have “special” sensitivities to what you think you may be encountering with my son, just be authentic. Say hello to him. Ask him if he is enjoying the day. Jeez, maybe approach him like you would approach ANYONE ELSE.
I’ve been tempted to respond “My Grandmother had gray hair too” or “My friend is black too” or “My mom has age spots too” but I haven’t done that. It would be rude, wouldn’t it?
What ones have you heard, Dads?
(Author’s note, 31-May: I’ve received feedback that the tone of this post is “snarky.” I agree that the tone of this “list style” social media post could be construed this way, esp. by those who haven’t repeatedly experienced these kinds of comments from strangers. Perhaps I could have included more straight “advice” in this piece. Many other pieces I write, and my book, will not take this tone so much. Thx – Gary)
You can download sample essays and poems from Gary’s latest book at http://blog.dadsofdisability.
Photo: honzasoukup / flickr