Story by Celeste Yvonne
If you meet my child and he seems off, it’s not your imagination. My son has a hidden disability.
If you talk to him and he doesn’t make eye contact, or acknowledge you, or respond to your question… it’s not because he’s rude. It’s because socializing is challenging for him, and it’s something we have to practice constantly.
If you hear me praising him for simple things – things a 7 year old should do easily – it’s not because we are spoiling him, or because he’s a brat. It’s because things that come naturally for some children take years and years of work for others. It’s because we try to maintain at least a 5:1 ratio of positive encouragement over reprimands, or the poor guy has to listen to being corrected all day.
If my child starts to yell, gets hyper, or acts up and I quietly remove him and we leave, it’s not because we don’t know how to discipline, and it’s not because we are horrible parents. It’s because my child struggles with severe self-shame and I try to enforce discipline and consequences in private, so he doesn’t feel further degradation and embarrassment than he already does by being called out in public.
Next time you see a child and they seem off, you’re intuition is probably correct. Give that child a warm smile, and extend it to their mom or dad who is probably nearby and holding their breath. Because 99% of their energy goes into what you don’t see, and they’re probably feeling anxious and hypervigilant. Because judgment and shaming helps no one, but a warm smile can absolutely make someone’s day.
Today’s a beautiful day to give a child and their mom or dad the benefit of the doubt. Today is the perfect day to teach your children to be inclusive to those who act different. Because some disabilities are hidden in plain sight.