Living in a rather small town and being someone in a wheelchair, I am often easily recognized. People I hardly know stop me on the street and ask me how my son is. They tell me they’ve seen him standing on the back of my wheelchair as we rode through town. This always gave me a warm feeling of belonging to the community.
As a volunteer at my son’s elementary school, many of the students recognized us whenever we were in the local playground. Being excited by seeing someone they knew, they’d run up to me saying hi, interrupting my conversation with their parent. For one four year old girl seeing me in the playground, or anywhere else for that matter, was an absolute trauma. As soon as she saw me, she’d run to her mother cry hysterically and demand they go home. Unable to calm her child the mother packed up their belongings, her other child and after apologizing to me, left the playground. I was saddened by her reaction. Not only did I feel bad that my presence bothered this little girl, but their leaving never gave me a chance to get to know her mother.
In school, whenever I entered the classroom she was in, she’d panic, run to the back of the room and face the wall so she didn’t have to look at me. Crying, she knew going home was not an option. Her second grade teacher decided to have me speak to the class about my disability. Everyone, except for the terrified girl who stared out the window, listened and asked questions. I was later told even her classmates tried explaining to her there was nothing to be afraid of. The teacher and I hoped it would be something she’d grew out of.
When she was in the third grade there was still no change. Disheartened I couldn’t help but break down and cry over the fact that she was still afraid of me while the others were not. I just didn’t know what more I could do to help her get over her fear. Seeing my tears, the teacher and the principal reminded me of the very reason I volunteered. It was their belief that children at a young age should come in contact with me in order to increase their awareness of people who have disabilities and to decrease their fears. We were all at a loss as to how to help this student but knew she shouldn’t be rushed.
In the fifth grade her fear seemed to worsen. She didn’t dare walk past me and ran back to her classroom when she saw me in the schoolyard waiting for my son. I began to realize nothing was going to change without some kind of intervention. She somehow needed to be stimulated into no longer being afraid so I spoke with her teachers about how to help her. When they asked her why she was afraid she said she didn’t know. Her parents were made aware of the situation but no matter what was said or done, her fears could not be calmed.
It was three weeks before summer vacation that I received a message on Facebook asking if I’d “friend” her. I thought the request came from her mother as an attempt to help her daughter so I accepted the friend request right away. After sending her mother a message thanking her for the request I received an instant message saying her mother didn’t contact me and asked if she could chat with me. We chatted a bit that day and a few times after until she was comfortable enough to ask if she and her mother could come visit me. Of course I immediately said yes.
What happened when they came was something extraordinary to see. I opened my front door and clinging to her mother, they entered but she dared not to go further. Sensing this, I told them to have a seat on the couch while I brought our dog into the yard. Upon my return I found her sitting as close to her mother as possible. I ignored this and started a conversation with her mother hoping she’d join in when she felt comfortable. She chose her words carefully and slowly when she spoke. As time went on I saw her whole body relax. It was magic to see the fear leave her. At one point I got out of my wheelchair and sat next to them in my recliner. Before they left, she moved next to me so her mother could take our picture as proof she was no longer afraid.
As it turns out, she now comes to my house after school when her mother has to work. The three of us have become good friends.
What I learned from all this is: You can be different and make a difference. With patience and love miracles really do happen.
|And now we even dress alike.|