My children and I were shopping at one of the big box electronic stores this weekend when I saw a lovely family – Mom, Dad, and two teenaged children. One of the children had Down Syndrome. What gave me pause was that Mom was walking through the store holding the hand of the teenager with Down Syndrome.
Does that bother anyone else, or am I just being hypersensitive?
My oldest daughter, now 18 years old, is intellectually disabled. I adopted her when she was 9 years old, and she soon had to learn about appropriate behavior between adults and children. For instance, by 5th grade, it was time to stop hugging her teacher. A handshake would work just as well.
I believe that if we parents don’t have high expectations for our children with disabilities, we can’t complain when others don’t. If we don’t show respect to our children, how can we expect others to respect them? To me, walking through a store holding the hand of a child who appeared to be in his late teens was not respectful to that child.
I understand that in some instances our children need support to help them walk. My youngest daughter does because she is blind. But, because she is a teenager, I don’t hold her hand – I offer my arm and act as her sighted guide.
When I am deciding what is age appropriate, what is respectful for my teenage daughters, I imagine what actions my 16 and 18 year old sons would accept. And hand holding while walking through a store, or a teacher holding their hand to go to the school cafeteria, or an aide holding their hand to go to the bus loop would certainly not go over well at all.
I don’t want to change my children with disabilities. I don’t want to make them neurotypical. I love them just the way they are. But, I do feel it is my job to prepare them for a world that can sometimes be quite cruel.