One of my major pet peeves is when I see people talking about how they would not want a child with a disability and would abort if given the opportunity. These people often say they wouldn’t want their child in pain and that it would be a burden to their family and society.
Being a person born with a disability has taught me many things. The first thing it taught me is to be brave. I have had to endure scary situations since birth, from procedures to surgeries to the uncertainty of not knowing what potentially painful thing was coming next. When I was little, if we even drove in the direction of the hospital, I would cry the whole time until we were back home. When I did have to go for checkups, I’d have this same response and cry all the while I was there. Then, when finally home, I’d say “That wasn’t so bad!”. I’m sure my mom was exasperated. Most of this behavior stemmed from fear, fear of the unknown. Sometimes I, or someone I knew in my circle of friends with disabilities, didn’t leave the hospital once they went in for a checkup. They would go and their doctor would tell them they needed surgery right away. Another issue I had was the threat of potential surgery. One of my doctors informed me when I was ten years old that if I didn’t choose to have a certain surgery I was going to die. At ten years old, being told you’re going to die is a horrific experience, especially when this particular operation was an unnecessary one. I never had it, and I’m still here. To this day, certain things give me anxiety. My earliest memory is the smell of ether, the thing they use to anesthetize you for surgery. You can still smell it in that familiar “hospital smell”.
Another thing having a disability has taught me is to “hold still.” This can take on a number of forms. I had to have x-rays regularly, and the tech always would announce “hold still!” or “hold your breath!” when it was time to take the picture. When you do this, you are forced to focus on every part of your body. You become aware of everything. Time stops, and you are in the moment. Nothing else matters. Once you make this a regular practice (whether you are forced to or not), it puts a lot of things into perspective. Which brings me to my next point.
Not everything matters. Stop, I’ll say it again. Not. Everything. Matters. Experiencing these things on a regular basis as a kid forced me to develop this attitude toward life, and it came out most of the time through events that happened at school. I was not a good student, and I admit it was partly because I didn’t care about it one bit. I was more concerned with trying to enjoy the things I could. I couldn’t run around with my nephews or kids at school. I could barely walk the distance to my classes sometimes. In the classroom, kids picked on me for various reasons. Not getting decent grades was just another way I didn’t “measure up” to my peers. I’d get picked on for having “knock off shoes” or for not doing this or that. A few kids treated me like I was the scum of the earth, and to this day I don’t know the reason. Then, one day it hit me, the reason doesn’t matter. I was still me and things continued to come and go regardless of what happened on any particular day. I seemed to realize which subjects in school weren’t worth my time, trying to teach me anything beyond basic math is like beating a dead elephant. I use elephant instead of horse here because the magnitude of my inability to understand math concepts is much larger than a regular problem. My family spent many hours just trying to teach me coin denominations, and I didn’t learn how to read a non digital clock until I was 13. But these were the things that mattered, so my family made sure that I got them, eventually.
Perhaps the most important thing having a disability has taught me is patience. Granted, I will admit I am still a work in progress in this area, I’m a lot better than I used to be. Dealing with ignorance is God’s way of teaching me patience. I wouldn’t have this patience if it weren’t for having a disability. From the stares I get to the rude comments made by people who either think they are being funny or are from an era when talking down to a person with a disability was acceptable. Dealing with ignorant people can be as painful as going to the doctor. Being talked down to is the worst though, because growing up most of the time I felt like the dumbest kid on earth. Sometimes I feel I might end up on an episode of “Snapped”. Now that I’m an adult, I realize I’m actually on the opposite end of the spectrum. Not because I feel like a genius like Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, but because I have empathy, common sense and the ability to know when to walk away from a bad situation or ignorant people. Every child, regardless of ability, has the right to learn these values and make the world a better place, and no person should have the right to take that opportunity away.