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By Carmen Sutherland, Coffee Club Facilitator
*This article was originally published in the Family Pulse Newsletter April 2019*
My favourite book of 2018 was called This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, about a little person who discovers at about age 5 that he/she is transgender. At the beginning of the journey, the child’s loving but nervous parents go to the mother’s social worker colleague and after telling him the situation the social worker says: “Congratulations! You have a child with gender dysphoria!” The lump in my throat was immediate. This fictional social worker was telling these parents to do something many parents with “typical children” take for granted: celebrate who the child is. Not only that, but he was celebrating, too! What if we all did that? Or, maybe a better question is: What if all the people in the community did that? What if our first response to a parent telling us that their child has a disability or challenge is: Congratulations! It doesn’t mean we are ignoring the challenges that the child or parents could face. What if it meant, we see the possible difficulties this family may go through, but first we are going to celebrate the fact that this child is here, and whenever we can we will keep celebrating.
If this was our goal, and we really wanted to implement it, think what that could mean? It could mean that maybe retired people who have time on their hands step up to help parents take their kids to appointments. It could mean that places of worship and community gathering places actively work to make their spaces accessible. It could mean that the culture is changed so that people who are typically-developing learn to embrace having those with disabilities in their community, instinctively thinking about how to support them and use their gifts and talents.
I have seen parents do this well. A dear friend of mine who has worked with people with disabilities for years, and has disabilities herself, gave birth to a daughter with a rare chromosomal disorder. The first post I saw about my first “heart-neice” on Facebook said something like: “Our beautiful daughter and the beginning of our journey!” Of course, it is likely that my friend and her partner dealt with some surprise and perhaps even sadness in private, but even I, someone who has been celebrated by this woman my whole life, was surprised at the pure joy in this post, and the fact that she constantly celebrates her daughter to this day. I have zero doubt that she celebrates others with disabilities whenever she meets them, both in her words and actions. I highlight her to point out that she did not begin to do this once she met her daughter, she was already doing it beforehand! I hope we can all – including myself – learn from her example and tell the world “Congratulations!” whenever possible.