Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am

I’ve always felt it was important for my children to learn how to behave in polite society and to use their manners. To me that means saying “please”, “thank you” and “excuse me”, not interrupting when others are talking, chewing food with their mouths closed, using good table manners, and other such niceties that make one more pleasant to be around. Those rules apply to my children without disabilities and equally to those with disabilities.

I want my children to be respectful, polite people, people not defined primarily by their disability. One of the ways I can help ensure that they do not get defined totally by their disability is to make sure they follow the same rules and conventions of society that everyone else does. And in the South, very well-defined mores define that behavior.

I have been surprised at the number of adults who do not expect pleasant behavior from children, especially children with disabilities. When my now 18 year old son, Chip, was entering kindergarten, I met with his teacher and explained to her how I felt it was important to say “Yes Maam” and “No Maam” when he was speaking to her. The teacher chuckled and said that would not be happening in her class – it was a “Southern thing” in her words. I pointed out that besides the fact that we do live in the South, I felt it was a “respectful thing” also. My words fell to deaf ears – “Maaming” would not be happening in her classroom.

When Ashley first started learning to sign, besides the basic survival signs (eat, drink, bathroom, hurt, no), I insisted she learn the signs for “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”. She is today one of the most polite children I know even though her polite words come in the form of sign language.

My 18 year old daughter, Jessica, also learned quickly that polite behavior would come with rewards. In her case, the recognition for using that behavior and being noticed as ‘special’ was enough to keep her on the path to those “Southern things” that I find so important.

My 17 year old son, Corey, is still struggling but is doing a lot better than when he first joined our family. He’s got the “please” and “thank you” down, but needs to work on the “huh?” when being called from another room.

I strongly believe that my childrens’ manners will help them greatly as they grow into adults. They will receive respect from others because they will be giving that respect. They will be able to eat at a “fancy’ restaurant as easily as at a fast food place. Ashley will be labeled as “that very polite young deafblind girl” instead of just “that young deafblind girl”. I know it is a small distinction. But it is to me a very important distinction.

Deborah can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Wednesday, and can also be found at Pipecleaner Dreams.

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