Inclusivity is the New Black
I’ll admit that, as a family, we don’t go on a lot of outings. Of course, we grocery shop and make tons of trips to Target (what? It’s a necessity), but between flu season with an immuno-compromised child, our work schedules, and just everyday chaos, planned outings tend to be put on the back burner. At least the ones that are large events with lots of strangers. This weekend, we were at a graduation (congratulations, baby sister!) and for the very first time, I noticed it: the glares, the whispers, and eyes full of pity. In a crowd full of strangers, I felt that all eyes wandered over to our smiling baby boy who was oblivious to their stares.
For over a year now, Flynn has been wearing orthotics on his legs. He started off with an SMO, short for supra malleolar orthotic, which means they extend just above the ankle bones. He now wears AFOs. An ankle-foot orthosis, or AFO, is intended to control the position and motion of the ankle and/or compensate for weakness. AFOs can be used to support weak limbs, or to position a limb with contracted muscles into a more normal position. This type of brace ends just below the knee and provides more stability than the SMO. After months of little to no progress, we made the switch (under the care of Flynn’s physiatrist) to the AFO and have noticed a change in even just the past couple of months.
I know that people notice them when we’re out and about. I mean, he chose a Spider-Man design and wears his Spider-Man light-up sneakers. They’re obvious for sure. Some people have approached me with questions because their child may need them, too, and I’m more than happy to help however I can.
This outing was different, though. The stares were blatant and were followed by whispers behind hands. Some people pointed, others just looked without blinking. And their eyes? They were looking right at us.
I thought about saying something. I thought about staring back. I thought about yelling and jumping to his defense. But what was I going to defend? He was doing nothing wrong. There’s nothing wrong with him. We’ve made it a point as his parents to show Flynn that while his AFOs are a part of him, they do not define him and never will. They are something that he needs, but not what he is. Orthotics aren’t a thing to defend, it’s not a debate. So, I glanced down at my sweet son playing in the grass and smiled. I complimented him on his ability to get back up when he falls. I kissed the boo-boos on his knees. I told him I loved him and let him keep playing.
I could have easily gotten angry, but people are just deterred by what they don’t know. Inclusion is not feeling any different. It’s being a part of a group without being singled out. It’s being able to exist at an event without having to be defended – like it wasn’t your right to be there, too. So, I acted like no one was staring, whispering, and pointing and we played in the grass together.
People don’t know what they don’t know. Curiosity isn’t a bad thing, but maybe it’s an opportunity to become informed. Ask the questions. Become more knowledgeable. Practice inclusivity. Be compassionate.