I think people with special needs get treated differently. I think I treat them differently. Not as much lately but still it’s there. As my understanding expands so does my sensitivity to those messages out there.
Most of the messages remind me of Lenny Bruce’s routine “How To Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties (1959)”. * Bruce’s premise is that liberal whites overcompensate for their uncomfortableness with race. That concept particularly resonates for me because many years ago an African American co-worker said to me, “ You know, I don’t like to just talk about Black stuff.” Cringe, cringe, and cringe. She and I did end up become friends and confidants mainly because of her honesty.
I had someone say to me that he didn’t even realize T. had Down syndrome after looking at a photo of him. I couldn’t tell if he really couldn’t or it’s like when someone says, “I don’t see color.”
My mom was showing photos of T. to a group of friends when one of the women picked up a photo and said, “Show them this one, he doesn’t look like he has Down syndrome.” I guess she was saying he could “pass.” (When my mom called me that night to tell me she said, “We love his Down syndrome, right?” Right.)
While waiting for an elevator I had a woman say to me “I’m going to visit a Down syndrome child today.” I only saw her in passing but I thought maybe she knew I had one of those. What I said was, “Oh, my son has Down syndrome.” It became clear she didn’t know I had a son with with Down syndrome – she was bragging. It’s was the “Some of my best friends are Gay syndrome.”
The thing I hear the most – there are too many examples to pick just one – is “Down syndrome people are so happy”. It is also the one that bothers me the most. It’s a compliment the way saying, “All Asian are good at math,” isn’t.
The strangest encounter was at Target**. A woman walking next to us said, “I love the way Down syndrome babies look!” She squealed with delight when T. looked at her. She said it about three more times. Did she think I didn’t hear her? If her daughter hadn’t been with her I would have said something but you can’t embarrass any kid like that. Her comment is the redux of “Bi-racial babies are so cute!”
I may think I am less guilty of these kind of offenses but reading over this, I am wondering who am I bending over backwards to make comfortable because of my deficits?
*I “remember” the routine from the 1974 Bob Fosse film starring Dustin Hoffman, Lenny.
** Yes, I love Target. I only hope its not as bad as loving Walmart.