Among the serious and shallow issues popping up in social media this past week was a story that you may have missed. A Canadian family in Ontario, with a 13-year-old son, Max, who has autism, received a horrible hateful anonymous letter from a neighbor who wrote, among other cruel things, “Do the right thing and move or euthanize him!!
The anonymous author of the letter (who signed herself, “one pissed off Mom") complained about the loud noises that Max makes when he is playing outside, and that her "normal" kids are upset at hearing Max. She then goes on to say, “You had a retarded kid, deal with it properly!!!! What right do you have to do this to hard working people!!!!!!!”
To her credit the mom, Karla Begley, has responded with a public stand against intolerance and hate. She said in an interview with blogger Ellen Seidman,
“I will not stoop to an insulting level. What I have to say is about tolerance, acceptance and respect for kids with special needs…. If Max's sounds bother someone, I'd hope that person would let us know in a respectful way. Give us a chance to handle it instead of being cowardly about it. I'd rather people bring things out in the open.”
Maybe if this pissy Mom took her kids over to Max’s house once in a while and had actually gotten to know Max, their whole family would have been more tolerant and understanding of his loud noises.
In fact, a new study in the UK released today showed that children who are exposed to people with disabilities — either directly or indirectly — have more positive attitudes about those with special needs.
In a survey of 1,520 kids ages 7 to 16, researchers found that increased familiarity with those who have disabilities led to more positive feelings. Even having a close friend or family member who had friendships or acquaintances with someone with a disability helped to lessen the negativity and fear.
“We have known for some time that integrating children with disabilities into the regular classroom can improve attitudes. What we have established here is just how much of a difference a greater presence in day-to-day life makes,” said Megan MacMillan of the University of Exeter Medical School in England who presented the findings Thursday at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference.
As we enter this period of personal introspection during the High Holidays, let’s add to our communal to-do list the need to create more opportunities for our typical kids and their families to talk, play and hangout with families who have kids with disabilities.
Inclusion is good for the kids with disabilities but it’s even better for the typical kids.