a.k.a. “The Grandparent Handout”
My son and I recently had the pleasure of meeting a really wonderful lady named Megan.
Megan is a Feeding Therapist and the latest addition to our team of caring individuals helping my son on the Autism Spectrum live his best life.
Our initial meetings went amazing. Megan was able to put my son at ease and even share some giggles with him. She was able to answer my questions and send me home with an armful of information, including a sheet she has dubbed “The Grandparent Handout.”
It only took a moment for her to explain what “The Grandparent Handout” is, but I have been thinking about it ever since. And since I couldn’t get it out of my head, I wrote about it.
I wrote a lot about it.
What I first thought would be one blog post has turned into three. So welcome to Part One of the thoughts I’ve been thinking ever since I was handed a single piece of paper.
So what is this “Grandparent Handout” that made such an impression on me?
It is a simple sheet of paper explaining that childhood eating and feeding disorders are real.
- They are not imaginary.
- They are not a sign of bad parenting or lack of discipline.
- They are not something that “tough love” can fix.
- They are medical conditions that require medical intervention.
“My parents find this one really helpful, she said, for all those relatives who say mean things and upset the kids at family gatherings like Thanksgiving Dinner.”
I’m not going to lie, in the weeks since this small conversation has stayed with me. It has saddened me. It has irritated me. It has even made me angry.
My heart grieves for the families that go through this lack of compassion on a regular basis. I am so thankful that my own experience has been a little different.
Yes, I have had a hearty helping of unpleasant interactions with acquaintances, strangers, and church people, but I really must praise the people closest to us. The grandparents who have chosen to be in our children’s lives, and the friends who have chosen to stay in our circle through our 8-years-and-counting journey with Autism have been supportive.
Sometimes they have had questions or concerns, so they asked us about them. Or they found an article. Or bought a book. They approached this unfamiliar diagnosis with a willingness to learn and a desire to help. That, to me, is the hallmark of being supportive.
Unfortunately my family’s experience seems to be a rare and beautiful one in the world of special needs parenting. I hear stories all the time of family members, friends, daycare providers and teachers who are willfully ignorant. Their ignorance causes them to be cruel, compounding the struggle of an already struggling child and an already struggling parent.
Willful ignorance is the worst.
In an earlier blog post, I spoke about how people tend to filter life through their own experiences.
We all do it.
We take what we already know, and we measure everything new against it, seeing where this new information fits.
To my knowledge, none of us can help this. This is just how our human brains work.
So the problem then, isn’t that we instinctually compare and contrast new information. The problem is when we pre-emptively decide that our own previous experience is the only “right” experience, that our own previous thoughts on a subject are the only “right” thoughts, and that our own previous values are the only “right” values.
This is the stuff prejudice and exclusion are made of. This is where the “us and them” mindset is formed. This is what makes someone rigid, intolerant, and judgmental.
This is what I refer to as being “willfully ignorant.”
If you always throw out new information without even considering it because it doesn’t match anything you have heard of before, you are willfully ignorant.
If your first instinct is that a person must be incorrect, exaggerating, or lying when they describe an experience that they have had and you have not, you are willfully ignorant.
If I could say just one thing to the willfully ignorant people I have had the (dis)pleasure of meeting, it would be this:
It’s not about you.
- Eating and Feeding Disorders are real, whether you believe in them or not.
- Autism, ADHD, and other neuro-developmental differences are real, whether or not you believe that they are excuses for bad behavior and bad parenting.
And while we’re at it…
- Depression, Anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder are real, whether or not you think they are weakness or an excuse.
- PTSD is real, whether or not you believe it is attention-seeking and welfare-check-seeking.
- Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions exist, whether or not you think “no one” can have that kind of pain.
- Racism is still alive and a big problem, no matter if you “don’t know any racists.”
- Sexism is still alive and a big problem, no matter how many “good guys” you know.
- Your political party had made mistakes, whether or not you think they are infallible.
- Your religion and your church have hurt someone, whether you want to believe it or not.
Your experience is not the only experience.
None of us are made exactly the same way.
We aren’t gingerbread men.
Next week I’ll talk a bit about the differences between willful ignorance, and “normal” ignorance–simply not knowing something/having no experience. They are different, so don’t beat yourself up too hard this week if you are just realizing that you don’t know much about disabilities, mental health, or any of the other topics I touched on today.
I would like to leave you with this thought: it’s not the amount of knowledge you have or don’t have that is the problem. The problem is how you treat people that you cannot relate to. I personally believe that we can all improve in this area.
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