“Because I’m stupid?”

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Tomorrow is the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (and my birthday). We are also celebrating the 5 year anniversary of the ADA Amendments Act which was particularly important for the Autistic community. And as far as we’ve come, we have obviously not come far enough.

Today, I listened to 8 young leaders from the Disability Rights Movement speak as Champions of Change at the White House. Many of these people I consider friends and it was truly an honor. But a message kept ringing true. Disability is looked down upon in our country even these many years after the passage of the ADA. We are told we’re not good enough.

So what does that all have to do with my subject line? Well, tonight, after all the pomp… After watching as not just one, but two autistic women had a chance to speak out… Daniel asked if the reason he was asked to stop repeating himself was… “because I’m stupid?” It was terrible and heartbreaking for me to hear as a parent. We never use that word to describe each other or other people.

Now I immediately told him no. I told him no again. I had him say “I’m not stupid.” And again. And again. The first time he seemed unsure of himself.. but as he said it again and again, it was obvious that the message had sunk in, even if it were for that moment. We discussed where he’d gotten that idea from.

But more importantly, we made sure he didn’t believe that of himself. Now he has his speech delay and so sometimes we know he can sound slow. And while everyone in our community, our friends, and even his school do not treat him differently, that doesn’t mean the rest of the world won’t.

As parents, it’s important to give our children a lot of things. But the most important thing is the ability to stand up and say, “I am of worth. I am of value. And I will not let you change my view of myself.” It’s something I’m sure we will have to repeat to both the boys over and over again. It is something they will have to repeat to themselves as they grow older over and over again. Until society values the contributions of people with disabilities, we all have to repeat it over and over and over again.

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