Friday, August 28, 2015

Changing Society

There is a campaign out there to encourage more companies to include kids with special needs in their advertising. I'm not going to link their name because on one hand, I appreciate what they are doing. 

I get it. I do. I want inclusion for my son and other kids with special needs in all aspects of life. I completely agree with toy companies including kids of all needs playing in their advertisements because that is one way of showing adaptability of products. I encourage movies and tv shows that appropriately include kids and adults with special needs because everyone needs representation and to identify with film, it's one way to understand ourselves and everyone likes entertainment!

On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about this specific project. At the end of the day, these are advertisers who are trying to make money, and their choice will be the most beautiful and least shocking of all kids with special needs. These kids will be made up, dressed up, frosted and filtered, and altered as the objective of selling more product is the goal of all campaigns. And I'm ok with that, sort of...

At the end of the day, I could care less if anyone else thinks my kid(s) are beautiful or handsome or cute. Do I dress my kids in certain outfits or clothes in order to look cute or look nice? Of course. Do I lament when in an outfit doesn't elicit "likes" and "comments" from others? Absolutely not. Their clothes may often be conventional, but I have to like them and, now that the girls have a very strong voice, they have to like them too. My questions to the girls when they put together some wild outfit are- Do you like it? Are you comfortable? Is everything covered? That is what matters. There are times I say more about what they wear, for special occasions or nice events, but even then, it is about looking near and put together. Their looks are at the bottom of the list of what I want feedback from others on. 

That is why this campaign bothers me so deeply. Rather than knowing my kids are placed in a product ad that is inherently superficial, in all cases, not just inclusion based cases, I want to know what people's perceptions are beyond that. I want people to question whether my kids try hard, use the intelligence they have, are kind, and love others. I want people to report back on how MacKenzie shared about her love of science, how Keegan shared with a friend, or how Johnny learned a new word from a friend. I want a stranger to comment on how interactive Johnny is rather than how he is a "special sweet angel". I want my friends to provide opportunities for inclusion at play dates (I have great inclusive friends by the way), for inclusion at schools to be the norm when appropriate, and for accommodations to be made to help all people who need a little extra assistance. I want a campaign that is focused on changing our schools so the needs of all kids, from the highest functioning to the lowest can get an education tailored to their level. I want my Facebook feed filled with demands for resources for classroom teachers, administrative staff, and educators and therapists that are helping kids learn livable skills. I want a hashtag that urges people to change their hearts, to be kind, understanding, and encouraging to kids and adults with special needs, rather than just being ok with how they look on the outside. I spend time telling my girls that beauty is subjective, that everyone has aspects to their physical body that is beauty, but that real worth comes from inside of them, so how can I promote a campaign that is about little more than a picture in a magazine or on a billboard? My son and my daughters are worth so much more than a photoshopped smile, regardless of their needs. This campaign speaks about changing advertising, but I see it as molding and changing the most "typical" looking kids into the societal norms that are already standard. 

And really, there is nothing wrong with that. That is what modeling and advertising is, but I caution anyone who thinks they are changing anything because a kid with special needs is included in one season's print ads because of social media pressure. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

First Day

On Monday, Mac started school. It was a day she, and her parents, looked forward to for weeks. She carefully picked out her backpack, lunchbox, first day of school outfit, and requested a family trip to IHOP to commemorate her next step. I could be sad, I could cry, I could voice my frustration that "it all just happened too fast". I could. But I honestly didn't feel that way. I began to feel a little like everything is happening too fast, but our journey with her isn't over, it's just different now. I was too excited to see her move on to school to be sad. And my heart spilled over with pride to see her excitement and confidence. 

As she approached the curb from the car line, she hesitated once. She turned back to the car, momentarily forgetting what her next step was. I knew she would be fine walking into the school and finding her classroom, we had toured and gone over what she should do several times. This was new however, and her looking back, was a normal sign of needed support. I didn't hesitate however, Matt and I have her a big smile from the car and out of my passenger seat I waved her on, silently urging her toward the door. She smiled back, turned, and walked in to the building. 

The reason I don't feel sad or wistful is because this is what I have been preparing her for over the past years. We have known for some time, that we would begin with mainstream schooling for our kids. As we raised her, we worked on the skills she would need to be successful in this setting. We worked to create scenarios where she could test responsibility and independence under our guidance. As appropriate and when safe, we allow, and encourage, her to push the boundaries of her limitations, to see what she is capable of. All of this was to create a confident little girl who walked into the school building by herself AND to  prepare her for obstacles she will face in her world as it grows beyond the confines of campuses in our neighborhood. 

The other day, when spending time with friends of mine, we mentioned the scene in Finding Nemo when the baby turtle, Squirt, gets lost in the current. As Marlin freaks out, the older turtle holds him back, voicing a desire to give the little guy a chance to figure it out. It's one of my favorite scenes in any Disney movie. A friend turned to me and said that the scene was "me", that the scene I mentioned described my parenting. It was an honor to hear because that is what Matt and I both try to do. To never place our kids in danger, but to allow them to grow when and explore when the situation allows. There are times we need to hold their hands and times when they can run ahead of us. There are times when we rescue them off the top of the playground and times when we push them off the diving board. There are times we guide them through friendships and relationships and times they need to figure it out themselves. Finding that balance for our family has been crucial in how we parent.

So Monday was our biggest test yet. She has her own days, her own memories, and large amounts of her own time now. We will be there to support, guide, and teach her along the way, we simply have more help from this point on with teachers, counsellors, and new friends. She WILL stumble along the way, but that's part of the process. We are so proud of her and look forward, expectantly, to hearing everything she wants to share. With a smile and a wave, we send her on her way!