Enter as A Little Child: What Kids Teach PWDs–and The Rest of Us

Happy New Year, readers!

I hope everyone had a joyous and blessed holiday season. Some of my Catholic readers may still be in the throes of the Christmas season since the Day of Epiphany is coming in two days. In honor of that day, and in honor of the place where I got the idea for this post, I’m going to inject some extra Christmas spirit into our time together. I also hope to give you all a fresh perspective for the new year.

Back in December, I was out of ideas for IndependenceChick’s Nest. But this Saturday, a new one found me. I was standing in the book section of my local Sam’s Club, and I ran across this book called 52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch. Now, those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know I love A Christmas Carol. I’m not a fan of how Tiny Tim is represented, but I’m willing to give Charles Dickens a pass due to the time period. So I was eager to see what lessons Bob Welch had found in this wonderful classic, but short, holiday ghost story.

Standing in Sam’s doesn’t give one the opportunity for deep reading, but I focused on one particular lesson out of 52. In it, Welch describes Bob Cratchit after he leaves from work on Christmas Eve. Rather than being discontented or angry with Scrooge, as anyone would have a right to be, Cratchit joins some neighborhood boys for ice-sliding. He becomes like a child, and that ratchets up his contentment level. It gives him an extra dose of Christmas spirit. It lets him focus on the good things in his life.

Welch goes on to tie this into Jesus’ admonition to enter the kingdom of God as a little child. “The kids are onto something here,” he writes. “Listen to them.” Kids aren’t worried about paying taxes or putting gas in the car or making therapy appointments on time. They just want to enjoy life.

Of course, we can’t always act completely like children; it would be counterproductive. But that’s not what Welch, Cratchit, or Jesus is going for here. They’re telling us to embrace childlike hope and childlike faith.

Now, PWDs get maligned for being “perpetual children” all the time, and that’s straight-up wrong. No matter your cognitive level, you are a human being who deserves to be treated the age you actually are. That being said, if some PWDs indulge in what we see as “”childish” behavior, how bad is that, really? In other words, we act uncomfortable or embarrassed when we see a twenty-year-old woman with a mental disability playing with Barbies. But why is that? She’s using her imagination. She’s engaging in the real play that we as adults say we miss but rarely indulge in because we’re too old. Maybe she’s making sense of her world. And there is nothing wrong or bad about that.

Sometimes, “childish” doesn’t even mean “childish” in the traditional sense. For example, an adult with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism might be called childish, babyish, or bratty because he needs structure and routine, or because he eats a favorite food every day. The people who are supposed to care for him don’t like this, so they use goals and plans and discipline to try to force it out of him. But why? When people without disabilities stick to routines and plans, we say they’re organized and structured. We respect that. When people without disabilities have favorite foods, we say it’s normal–whereas we say a PWD has a food addiction and the food needs to be used as a behavioral incentive. I’ve asked it before and will again: why are we doing this to our fellow people? Are they not of the human race, as the Ghost of Christmas Present said? In fact, I love the way that most little children respond to PWDs. They might stare or ask questions because they’re curious, but often, they aren’t cruel. Like Tiny Tim, they are more ready to accept disabilities and differences than most of the adult world.

I’ll close this post by talking a bit about yours truly. Cognitively, I am a woman approaching her 30s. In fact, I’ve been accused of being an old soul. But sometimes, I want to go back to the way things were when I was a kid. I turn on the cartoons I used to watch on YouTube, or I play Christmas music in August just to elevate my spirit. Over the holidays, I went out and bought copies of Rankin-Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, because they remind me of my deceased grandmother. But sometimes I hide these tendencies, and certain interests, because I don’t want people to start wondering if they mean I’m cognitively disabled. (More on the disability hierarchy in future). My self-reflection question though, is, if so many people, including the Founder of my own faith, extolled the enthusiasm, love, and faith of little children…

Then what’s wrong with any of that? What’s wrong with going to God and saying, “I’m scared/angry/sad…I need a lap?” Why don’t we do more things like that, and why do we shun the PWDs who have an easier time of it than we do?

Scrooge eventually learned that in order to be a happy, good person, he needed to stop shunning people and start embracing happiness. Now, I’m not saying to be Merry Sunshine constantly–that’s fake and everyone can see through it. But maybe if we stopped shunning children, and treating PWDs like dumb little kids, we’d all be a little wiser. The kids are onto something here. Listen up.

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