Monday, October 29, 2012

Why I Don't Care if You Stare

As many of you know, Sadie began her journey to diagnosis with a hunt to find out what was going on with her right eye. I remember leaving one of Sadie's first opthomology appointments alongside a mom pushing a child with Downs Syndrome in a wheelchair.

Right or wrong, I remember thinking to myself " could always be worse."  I also vividly remember how very put-together this mom looked - tall, attractive, with her hair in a ponytail and wearing yoga clothes. I admired that she looked like she had it all together, despite the challenges she faced. Now, how I wish that vision impairment was Sadie's only disability.

There are many conversations by parents in the special needs community about others staring at their child. Most of these discussions on blogs and message boards hover around the "rudeness" of the adult or child who is staring at their special needs kid.

However, my feelings about this differ slightly. Honestly - I really don't care if people stare. In fact, I understand why they do. Sadie looks different. It's not often you see a little 2 1/2 year old girl in a wheelchair with a tube hanging out of her nose.

Adults usually politely look at her, then look away. Children are a little different, they examine her very closely, and often ask their parents a question about her. "Why is she in that chair?" "What is that cord in her nose?" "What happened to her?"

A few parents will look at me apologetically, to which I simply smile back at them. I've found that most parents handle these questions quite well. "You see, honey, some kids are in a wheelchair because it takes them a little longer to learn to walk." or "Remember when your friend Isabelle had an NG tube when she got sick? That little girl has one too."

Parents shouldn't feel like they have to apologize for these questions. Kids are naturally curious. I expect stares and questions from children. I actually find myself quite interested in the parents' responses to these questions.

And, yes, some adults stare too, and I'm OK with that. There were the two nuns in a hospital lobby recently who couldn't take their eyes off Sadie. I imagined them to be saying a few prayers for her, making a mental note to add "the little girl in the wheelchair" to their prayer list. I admit, sometimes even I stare at another special needs child...try to guess their diagnosis, or to check out their wheelchair or equipment.

My point is... you never know why people are staring. I found at least one other person who agrees with me. But for every article like this, there are at least ten others written by special needs parents about how rude it is when people stare. And, I can't say that I blame them. After all, when you are "in the club," you become accustomed to fighting - with doctors, school systems, insurance name it. So the defenses are naturally up. It's simply not the way I like to respond.

SO, next time I'm in Target - unshowered and lacking makeup - and I see someone staring, I'll just assume the stare is one of admiration. Or, at least, that's what I'll tell myself.


  1. Hopping over from "love that Max" link up to say Hi! A tender subject for sure for parents of children with special needs. In our case with a diagnoses of Autism the early years were painful to see others stare as she went into total meltdown. I have got a tougher skin over the years ( or so I tell myself!). I have also learned to smile at others -- I am usually greeted with a smile back. Sometimes we forget that the whole world isn't actually teaming up against us. Great post! ~Jamie

  2. found you via "love that Max" I have a 14 yr. old non-verbal non-walking ninth grader & I don't mind the stares either. I tell myself they stare cuz my boy is just so darned cute!! Dawn from KCMO

  3. Cathy, you have an unbelievably positive attitude. Keep it up, girl friend. You'll be happier because of it. Sadie and your family are in our prayers. Looking forward to seeing you, Adin and Sadie next month!

  4. I love this post! My son is such a stare bear himself as am I! I am always diagnosing kids and checking out equipment which is fine when Cooper is with me!Cooper has moments of getting annoyed with the questions depending on how they are asked.....he always likes people to say hello and introduce themselves before they blurt out what they are really wanting to know!