Poster Child

by Jak

Remember that time when it became socially appropriate to approach a mom and baby and comment, “Oh! My [INSERT FAMILY MEMBER, FRIEND, NEIGHBOR, CO-WORKER] is special needs. She is involved with [INSERT ORGANIZATION]. Who knows? Maybe someday this beauty (*gestures to my infant daughter*) will be on a billboard for some organization?”

Yeah, me neither. I know this person was well intentioned. But the language that was used and the message irks me.

First of all, thank you for making a connection with me. But, you didn’t have to use disability as the connection. My daughter has a lot of qualities you could’ve mentioned rather than her diagnosis.

Second, no one is “special needs.” To some, it’s just semantics. To me, it conjures a lot of stereotypes and implications including that the person is entirely made up of her diagnosis and has no other identifying traits.

Third, I’m truly happy the person you know found an organization that has helped him or her. But, to say that you hope she literally becomes a poster child is degrading. It makes me feel like you’re suggesting to “sell” her diagnosis — and implying the message, “she’s beautiful even though she has special needs or Down syndrome” — for the betterment of organizations.

Yes, I got all this from a 15 second exchange with a stranger. But, it is the subtle social exchanges that can really alter someone’s (in the future case, my daughter’s) self-perception.

I won’t be able to protect her all the time. But, I’m going to do my damned best.

Author: Jak • Date: 11/20/2018

About the Author

Jak and her family live in Wisconsin and enjoy eating ice cream all year long.

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