My daughter is 6 years old, she has cerebral palsy and some developmental delays. She recently began walking on her own — yay! She still has a bit of a labored gait and doesn’t walk like a typical kiddo of her age, but she’s doing great and we are so happy for her!
However, one thing I have noticed and am a bit unsettled by is now that she is out walking around in public, everyone wants to talk to her! Like, literally… almost every person that passes us smiles or stops and says something to her. And it’s great — she’s cute and obviously working hard and most people have been really supportive. So, why does this bother me so much, you ask?
Well three months ago, when we were out in public and she was in her wheelchair, we would get zero comments… zero interactions, zero supportive words, maybe an occasional smile, but that’s it. The difference is appalling. It’s the same adorable little girl, same fun personality, same willingness and yearning to participate in society. So why the huge difference in others’ reactions? Why am I sitting here, so incredibly shocked at the amount of kindness and support we are suddenly receiving from strangers that was never there before? Why am I so sad about this in the midst of a really happy and exciting time for my child?
Because not every child will walk.
It has taken us six years to get to this shaky point, and even now, she may still use her wheelchair. Not every child will be able to walk independently. Some will always rely on a chair, and they deserve so much more from our communities than what I have seen.
So, here is my PSA for the day:
Talk to kids in wheelchairs!
They aren’t to be scared of — you will not hurt them with a smile and a nice word. In fact, you may just make their day a little bit brighter. Isn’t that the point? They may not respond, but that’s OK. They and their parent will feel the love. If you don’t know quite what to say, think about what you would say to that kid if they were walking like everyone else, because guess what? They’re still a kid too… just like all the others. So treat them that way. Talk to them that way. Wheelchairs shouldn’t be scaring you off. Wheelchairs should not be a reason to skirt your eyes away. It should not be a reason to avoid connection. If anything, these are the families that could use the support the most. So help take away a bit of that feeling of isolation. Support them. Cheer them on. Because they are every bit as awesome and deserving as any child who’s walking.