This may sound creepy at first but I just find children fascinating. Not in the Jimmy Savile way so don’t be alarmed but more to do with the way their brain works. I don’t want to study for a degree in Child Psychology or anything like that but what they come out with is interesting and more often than not quite entertaining. I could quite easily sit and listen to a small kid speak all day. How they see and interpret the world is completely different to an adult. Like most people, I cannot remember my thought process when I was a toddler so I’m deeply curious.
Their perception of me, a disabled person who uses a wheelchair, is particularly intriguing. I’ve heard children ask their parents “why is that boy/man in a big pushchair?” and the answer is usually “he’s got poorly legs”. The child will normally accept that reply and stop staring. However, sometimes they want to know more. The parent will often get embarrassed or apologise for their kid’s inquisitive behaviour but it really doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m glad they’re interested and have a desire to learn. Teaching children at an early age about disability will mean less ignorance in the future.
I don’t want to sound like a nasty Grinch either but children who mistakenly believe wheelchairs are fun go-karts and say “I want one of them when I’m older” should be immediately told otherwise. Disability is unfortunately serious and kids shouldn’t grow up thinking that being wheelchair bound is a bundle of laughs. That will only lead to moronic adults who say that being in a wheelchair would be “pretty cool”. I’m not saying that children should know everything but at least be told that disability is not a good illness to have.
I’ll use my neighbour’s three children as an example of how kids see disability. They are 7, 6 and 3 years old so their brains are still in the early stages of development. Thankfully, they do not know the horrors of life (sometimes wish I was blissfully ignorant too) but they all have grown up seeing me in a wheelchair. The two older daughters have never questioned it. I don’t know if the mum has spoke to them in private and explained that “Glen’s legs don’t work” but they have always got on with it. The son seemed unfazed also and actually was obsessed with my wheels as a baby, until a few weeks ago.
Out of the blue, he pointed at the wheelchair and asked “why are you in that?” I was a bit taken aback as he or his sisters hadn’t enquired before. I laughed at first but then put my serious face on and gave the standard answer of “I can’t walk”. He raised his eyebrows, looked concerned for a second and then continued playing. I wondered what prompted him to suddenly ask that question and secondly, what was going through his mind when I answered. I guess I’ll never know unless I invent a time travelling device as well as mindreading software.