Tag Archives: accepting

Right In The Centre


I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can make sure my daughter has a happy life long after I’m gone. I can put in place a lot for her, like income and help her build the skills and resources she will need, but her happiness long term will depend not on me but on the people around her. The right kind of friends, the right people keeping an eye out for her. She has a sister, but it doesn’t seem fair to say to her sister she is your responsibility. Of course, she would take the responsibility willingly, but my youngest wouldn’t actually want to feel that her older sister was her guardian. The solution I think is community.

How to build community? You can only build community if you are part of it. What brought on these thoughts? Well, as always, the podcast gets me thinking and the latest was an interview with Clive Harris at The Shed. He talked about not wanting to provide a day care centre but rather provide a space where people came together and through meeting each other changed their perceptions about each other. When it came to finding a location for The Shed it was a case of the location needing to be in the centre of the community, in this case on the main street. As he said people often have a set perception of what a young person with additional needs is and can be. People too often underestimate them and their capabilities. By seeing people every day in their ordinary lives then preconceptions change, and understanding can grow.

If you’re not familiar with the daycare centre model, people with additional needs are provided with daily activities in a protected space. Nothing wrong with that I hear you say; of course, there isn’t, and for some people, this is what they want. But often this is a standard response for everyone and it simply isn’t a case of one size fits all approach when it comes to people. If you listen to the Journey Skills podcasts you will know 40 episodes in there are many organisations out there stretching people and challenging perceptions.

What a lot of these have in common is they are in the middle of the community, not separate. I don’t believe my daughter will believe she is living independently if she is not able to engage with her local community and feel part of something. That’s not independence. Familiarity breeds understanding. I would be lying if I didn’t say that meeting people I don’t understand scares me. It’s the unfamiliar. I think many people are like that when it comes to additional needs. Their views are often based on stereotyped ideas. We all need to talk to the person first not a label. So, places like The Shed, right in the centre of the community, daily challenging perceptions are helping to create a better future for every young person with additional needs.

How Embarrassing?

Embarassed, man in suit cutting text on paper with scissorsMy family say I have a ‘high tolerance for embarrassment.’ I don’t. I’ve made a conscious decision to remember what’s important to me: my relationship with my daughter. When she does things that others might construe as a little bit odd, I pause for a moment to decide whether this little bit of perceived oddness is really worth saying something to her about.

Then, as often as I say something, I say nothing. Some things my daughter does are just unusual rather than things I should feel embarrassed about. She sees the world slightly differently to me, and so reacts in it slightly differently to me. I shouldn’t rush to close down the way she acts because I feel embarrassed because it doesn’t fit into my thoughts about the world.

I’m not meaning to suggest that there aren’t times when the odd quiet word of advice isn’t needed. I’m just putting it out there that sometimes I think I should let my daughter be herself, and when people look at her I should judge them rather than give them the power to judge her (and me). The way I think of it is: there are 3 options I need to remember.

1. People Know
The majority of people do recognise when someone faces additional challenges in their lives, even if there are no physical signs. For instance, I was in a busy café the other day desperately searching for a seat with my youngest daughter, and a young mother was just leaving with her new born baby. I made the appropriate noises, and exchanged a few words about how my daughter was once that little and cute. Well my daughter went absolutely went ballistic, ‘Don’t talk about me like that!’ It was rather like I’d committed the worst sin imaginable. The young mother, though, instantly knew my daughter doesn’t see the world like most people. There’s nothing particularly odd about the way she looks, it’s just sometimes the way she presents herself to the world. I believe most people get that. They accept it because I think most people are more tolerant than we give them credit for. Most people, like you and I with others who have children being challenging, make allowances. Most people are better than we sometimes judge them.

In effect I’m suggesting that we shouldn’t die of embarrassment because our son or daughter has done something in public that draw attention to them. As people we all recognise differences in other people a mile off, and accept it.

2. Who Cares (part 1): Others Do It
Other girls of a similar age do the same things as my daughter, but because she is not in a group of girls it’s more unusual. But then again, if we’re being subjected to a shopping centre by our eldest daughter who needs to look inside every shop, then it’s no wonder my youngest gets a little bored. I do too. The difference probably is I don’t start dancing to the loud chart music being played inside the shop, obviously because I don’t have the moves. But other, for want of a better word, ‘normal’ girls do. My daughter even sings along to a song sometimes. So if these girls can be young and excited about life, why can’t my daughter? Maybe people who are older grow out of this enthusiasm, but why should I train it out of my daughter before her time? Yes I get the our sons and daughters face enough challenges without drawing more attention to themselves, but I also feel I’m nagging her about every other thing I want her to do to fit in to society better, let alone pulling her up on these little fun things.

What I’m saying is that most people have small eccentricities about them, and I don’t want to knock out every one of my daughter’s. Sometimes quite ‘normal’ people do some quite strange things in public, and so why should I try to suppress every bit of individuality my daughter has because I might be embarrassed by her doing something in public most people don’t. It only takes one other person to do something that is not usual for my daughter to be just a part of a minority group. Sometimes embarrassment is my issue, not hers.

3. Who Cares (part 2): They Aren’t Worth It
The last way I deal with embarrassment is, who cares! Yes there are some people who would laugh at our sons and daughter in not a nice way. That’s life. They, and let’s be charitable to them, might just be having a little laugh at something they find funny. Poor them! They are insensitive. They are people I don’t think I really want to know.

Others might be more spiteful in their laughter – a genuine poke fun at other people because they think they are so superior. These people really aren’t worth a single moment of my thoughts. If they present themselves as un-evolved amoeba, why should I give them the same respect as I might my dog? People have to present themselves as humane to be afforded the respect of being human. It is they who should be embarrassed, not me worrying about something my daughter is doing.

 

In short I think most people are more tolerant that we expect. Most people don’t laugh even if we feel embarrassed – I really believe this. Hence sometimes I don’t always try to stop my daughter doing unusual things. And for those who would laugh intentionally, they aren’t worth a second moment of my time.  I realise my conscious decisions here have given me a high tolerance to embarrassment but how do you deal with embarrassment? Please share your thoughts here or on our Facebook page.