Saturday, May 24, 2014

Being Helpful: On What Isn't.

Recently, Ellie has been able to navigate some of the smaller local parks on her own, allowing her to gain independence and allowing me to sit back and relax with some of my mama-friends.  After over three years in physical therapy, it's nice to see Ellie's hard work pay off.  Each playground visit, I'm amazed that she can run, climb, slide, and walk up stairs with a handrail.

A neighbor and I were recently chatting about a new park that opened nearby.  It's fenced in (perfect for running children), the equipment is for the 2-5 set (perfect for her almost-two year old and my three year old) and at some point, a water fountain-sprayground-type thing will open there.

On Saturday afternoon, we decided to meet at the park prepared for either the spray park (which wasn't yet open) or the playground (which was.)  Our kids played and we alternated supervising children when we were needed and chatting when our kids were playing safely.

More than once, someone provided my child a physical assist on a piece of equipment.

The first time, Ellie grabbed a woman's hand who was standing near the balance beam.  That didn't faze me much.

But when random people began to physically lift my child up and down stairs, I was irritated.  The same guy did it three times, but he wasn't the only one.

Ellie is three.  Yes, she is small.

But unless there is danger, please don't pick up a stranger's child.

We worked so hard for independence on playground equipment.  If I wanted her to have a hand to hold on the stairs, I would be there, offering my  hand.  But Ellie is learning to navigate stairs alone, because in our house, we want her to be independent going up to her room.

We work hard on knowing what Ellie can and can't do independently.  She has learned to try new things but trust her limits.  Please don't push her boundaries.

We worked so hard to get her healthy, and she is.  And if she wasn't healthy enough to be around germs, I doubt I'd let her play on a public playground.  But a stranger picking up my child takes me back to the post-open-heart-surgery days when people at the grocery store or on the street would reach out and touch her, despite my insistence that they not.

This weekend, after several incidents, I had to ask someone to please stop picking up my kid. I sent teacher-eyes the first time.  The second time, I was not right next to Ellie, as I was giving her space.  I can read her face, and she was confused.  We went to a different part of the park.  After the third time, I finally looked at the man and said, "Please let go of my kid.  She can do it herself."   He seemed shocked that his help was not perceived as helpful.  I was shocked that a grown man would keep picking up an unfamiliar little girl.

I don't know if the "extra help" Ellie received this weekend was due to her size or disability, but I suspect it was because she has Down syndrome.  I didn't notice the parents lifting Ellie lifting any other children aside from their own, although many kids younger than Ellie were present.  I do not think the parents picking my child up were doing so to be malicious, but I do think they were careless.

Don't pick up a child you don't know unless they are in danger.  That isn't just for kids with disabilities.  Do not pick up a stranger's child.  That's a good rule of thumb, especially if the parent is present and unconcerned.

Don't assume someone with a disability needs help.  Ellie is slower on the equipment than other three year olds.  She's slower on the playground than many two year olds.  But she is confident and happy and generally quite safe.  When she's not safe, you'll see my run to her.

Please, stop and think.  

Please, trust the parents around you at the park to do what is best for their kids.

Some kids need to fall down and see that they'll be okay.  Some kids need to be stopped before they do something crazy.  But trust the parents, or nannies, or aunts, or uncles, or caregivers to know.

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  1. Not only would I have been annoyed that someone kept helping Ellie, but I would have felt like you......why in the world is a grown man touching someone else's little girl?? It's just not good.

    People have often tried to help Owen and it used to annoy the hell out of me. I am very much into the independence factor.....he has to learn how to do it himself because there will be times that I (or his dad or whatever) won't be there to help. This is a big part of childhood for any kid, but I think even bigger for a kid with a disability. I HATE it when people baby him....that is not how I treat him at all and I don't think it will ever be helpful to him to always have someone around to do something for him. I have had to tell people to just leave him alone. Then I like smugly smiling when he is able to do something that they thought he couldn't do because "he's small". The best part is when Owen either pushes those people away or waves them off. He knows exactly what he's doing!

  2. Great post. So true and so heartbreaking/frustrating to see others view your child so differently than you do. We just experienced this in the preschool tryout process by educators! Good for you for speaking up.


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