Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Restoring Faith in Humanity

Having been the parent, of a child with a disability, for more than 3 years now, I've learnt to roll with the punches most of the time; to ignore the stares and ignorant comments, and to hold my head high even when it hurts. I've got to the point where, the majority of the time, I can switch off to those things and look positively into the future. However, this week I have been shaken to the core, and allowed anxiety and helplessness to creep into my heart and mind because of a single word on a tshirt.
Bigger horse this time

As many of you would have already read/heard via the media, a local store in our capital city of Adelaide had, displayed in their shop window, a shirt with the word 'RETARDE' in big, black writing. A lovely local lady, who has sadly lost her precious son (who had a disability), walked into the store, when she saw this
offensive shirt, and asked for it to be removed because it offended her and would offend others. Quite a reasonable request, one would think. Any understanding, compassionate person would apologise for the offense and remove the shirt from sale, citing an oversight at the pain it could cause people in the community with an intellectual disability, and their families.

What followed was a media frenzy. The manager of the store praised the two 'designers' who created the slogan, and refused to stop selling the offending shirt. He insisted it was a French word (although written without the symbol above the 'e') and meant to 'slow down'. Interestingly, I have heard from several French people since, who claim the word is often used offensively in their culture. The manager, in a radio interview, was quoted as saying, "You need to stop mollycoddling your children and get them to toughen up." Really? For starters, of course we would say to our children "Try to ignore people who call you a retard", but it doesn't mean it won't hurt, and to have it emblazoned across a shirt is insensitivity at its worst. He obviously has no comprehension of what it is like to live with an intellectual disability or to love someone with one.
Working hard at hydrotherapy

I have an adorable 3 year old, with Down syndrome, and every time we go out there are people who point, stare, elbow each other and whisper. Thankfully, he isn't old enough to notice that yet, but I'm sure there will come a time when he will. Yes, I will teach him to ignore people's comments and to look the other way if they are mocking him or being rude. I'll probably even teach him some 'come-backs', but that doesn't make it right for people to be able to ridicule him for their own pathetic entertainment. That's exactly what these shirts do. They have no positive value and have no place in today's supposed 'open-minded' and 'accepting' community.
Body painting?

The thing which upset me the most was reading the comments from people, supportive of the sale of these shirts. It was like a knife to my stomach to read the awful things written about people with intellectual disabilities, and the lack of support or concern shown by those writing in. I wonder if they would proudly wear the, equally offensive, words 'N**ger' or 'F**got' across their chest? Or would they somehow feel differently about those words? It frightened me to realise that there are still hundreds of people out there who think the word 'retard' is, not only OK, but funny enough to put on a shirt and walk around wearing it. It left me discouraged about the state of the world, and concerned for Felix's future.

Helping decorate the tree
Thankfully, after a couple of days of soul-searching, my faith in humanity has been somewhat restored. We received a message from a friend, telling us they had deleted someone from Facebook because of their comments regarding the tshirt. They don't have a personal relationship with anyone with an intellectual disability, but felt strongly enough (out of support for us), to take a stand. Several others; some of who are still working on eliminating the word 'retard' from their own vocabulary, showed their support by comments they made on news stories/Facebook or by sharing links supporting those with disabilities. I really appreciate that a lot of people I know, have stopped to reconsider the words they use and the effect they have on others. Thank you to all of you. I know that none of us are perfect, and we are all guilty of saying things without thinking sometimes, but the fact that this situation has made some people stop and think is a positive.

Next time you're about to use a racial slur, the words 'gay', 'fat', 'retarded' or 'spastic', or even just a criticism about someone because you don't like the way they look or act; STOP and think before you speak. Be thankful for the diverse world we live in. Be glad we're not all exactly the same. Give that person a chance.... who knows? They could be influential in changing your life for the better!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Riding Therapy

Felix's first horse ride
Felix attended his very first RDA (Riding for the Disabled) session (an hour away from our house), just over a week ago. I wasn't sure how he would go because he had never sat on a horse before. He had refused to sit on the 'pool noodle' when he had hydrotherapy, so I thought he would probably refuse to sit on the horse as well. He had a very grumpy morning, having to do food shopping with us before his riding lesson, and was in quite a mood before we even got there. To say I was a little apprehensive, is putting it mildly.

Everyone was very welcoming when we arrived, and we finally got to meet a Mum (and her gorgeous daughter who also has DS), who I had been speaking to on Facebook for quite a long time. Felix was fitted with a riding helmet (actually a bike helmet because his head was too little for the riding ones). He didn't like the fitting process much; it involved getting the strap really tight under his chin to keep him safe. The good thing was that once the helmet was on, nice and snug, there was no way he was able to pull it off again. After his helmet was on, we walked out to meet Felix's little horse for the first time. Felix started to get pretty excited when he saw all the horses and his grumpy mood disappeared and was replaced with a smile.
With his instructors

When Felix's horse was ready for him I helped him up onto it, and then the volunteers took over while Nathan and I watched from a distance. The goal of his first lesson was to get him comfortable with the horse, but not to overwhelm him by keeping him up there for too long. He was instructed to hold onto a little handle on the front of the saddle with both hands and not let go. The instructions were short and sweet. If you hold on, the horse will walk. If you let go, the horse will stop (which isn't as much fun). Felix hung on to the instructor's arm for the first minute or so, but it didn't take long until he did what he was asked, and held on to the saddle (only letting go to brush away the flies.... we will need to get him a net to wear over his helmet so they don't bother him). I felt so proud of him, sitting up on the horse, looking so grown up. I can't wait to see his riding develop over time, and see him get stronger core strength from holding himself up on the horse.
Doing some gardening with Shaun the sheep

Felix's speech is continuing to develop in leaps and bounds over the past couple of months. He has even started putting two words together sometimes, asking me yesterday for "more eat". Even though Felix has always been very vocal, chattering away with his own language, it is so beautiful to hear his voice when he speaks. It's almost as if I have never heard him before, so it's a whole new, very exciting experience.

Felix has always loved to 'count', often going up to all the people in a room and touching them as we count. He does the same with toys and will sometimes put each of his fingers up, one at a time, and make sounds like he is counting. Yesterday, Felix was walking up some stairs. As usual, I was counting the stairs as he took each step. "One, two, three....", and all of a sudden, Felix said, "Four" as clearly as anything!!! I think I actually screamed out loud. I was so excited as I cuddled Felix and told him how clever he was, and he had a very proud grin on his face. Another very cool thing is that Felix no longer needs to hold my hand when he goes up and down stairs. Most of the time, he is able to manage them without holding on to anything. His legs have certainly got stronger and his gross motor skills are improving all the time.
New haircut and a cheeky face

Playing outside is still Felix's absolute favourite thing to do. I spent the day gardening, a few days ago, and Felix and Shaun the sheep came out to the front yard with me. We have a huge gum tree alongside our driveway, and Felix likes to walk around it, picking up leaves and sticks and playing with them. While I was busy gardening, I looked up and saw the cutest thing.... Felix and the lamb chasing each other around and around the tree. Felix was giggling and running as fast as he could, and the lamb was kicking up its' back legs and rocking his head up and down, running after him. If only I had got it on video!