Many times, well meaning people have told my son he is not really Disabled. They will tell him he is just “differently abled” or “special”. They think they are helping him, but they are really hurting him.
Yes, it is true that he is special, and that he has many abilities, but he is also very much a Disabled person.
Telling him that he is just “different” from other kids ignores the very real difficulties that he faces and the barriers that society places in front of him. My child does not see his disabilities as anything other than neutral and unavoidable facts. The stigma that others see in labeling him as disabled is the value that they are placing on the lives of Disabled people. It has absolutely nothing to do with who he is and everything to do with their own ableism.
When others tell my son that he is “different, not disabled”, they are erasing an important part of his identity. It is not the only thing about him, but it is a big part of him. When they deny this part of his identity, they are teaching him to be ashamed of a part of himself. They are telling him that there is a part of him that he should not be proud of. While that may not be the intent, that is the message.
My son is Disabled and Proud. He is proud of who he is and of the body and mind that are his own. He is learning how to make his way in this world, a world that is not as welcoming or accepting as it should be to people like him. He is learning about things like ableism and oppression and how those things are not his fault. He is discovering the social model of disability and the neurodiversity paradigm. He is finding community and friendship with others. He is learning about Disability culture and Autistic Pride. He is learning that who he is, who he was born to be is not a mistake. He is learning of the worth in diversity and the value in each of us.
People: stop trying to take that away from him.
Telling him that he is not Disabled is doing him no favors. It is actively harming him. My son is proud and he practices damn hard in spite of the messages that society is giving him about disabled lives.
Denying his disability will not remove the barriers that make his life difficult. It will not change the hearts and minds of those who will see him as less than. What it will do is teach him shame. That is not something I want for him, or that most people would think is okay to teach a child. I want him to grow up strong and proud, and honoring of all the things that make him uniquely him.
Image: Square with four parts consisting of various disability related symbols including, a person using a wheelchair, an outline of a person's head with a brain colored in, two hands using ASL and a figure walking with a cane. Text over images reads: Disabled & Proud