Unfortunately because the headrest was in the eye line of the gentleman, it looked as though I was simply having a gawk at his disability. In his eyes I was probably number twelve in a twenty metre stretch where people had rudely stared without even offering the dignity of a smile.
Now that I sensed he was lumping me in with the other gawkers I had this urgency to say, “hey man, I was just checking out your headrest, seriously!” I even thought of saying, “I have a special needs child, it’s true – I am not the same as the others!” But in the time it took me to get over my awkwardness the electric wheel chair had buzzed past me and I was wishing it had run over my foot to pay penance for my stupidity.
My daughter Sunny has severe Cerebral Palsy and we have decided to send her 2 days a week to ‘mainstream school’ and 3 days a week to ‘special development school’ (stupid names but we’ll work with it for now). The children in her mainstream class have grown up with Sunny for several years and it is entirely normal. They don’t stare at her as though she is an alien in fact they fight over who gets to partner with her at assembly (too cute!)
These children will grow up with a different attitude than my generation. It is likely they will see ‘special needs’ people as normal. They will be more sophisticated and want to include them in life – not segregate and separate. Many kids won’t experience those awkward silences like I do as I ponder on what is the ‘appropriate’ thing to say – they will simply communicate because it’s normal and will see more than just a body that doesn’t work that well.
I know I haven’t cracked the code yet because even me, a ‘special needs’ dad, still second guesses myself when a person in a wheel chair whizzes past me. I want to say, “hey I am in the club” but the fact I feel this urge is just a reflection of my own self-consciousness that still sees people as ‘different’. I will truly be a changed man when that inward awkwardness hardly registers a conscious blip on the radar.