Growing up, saying that someone had a great personality was sometimes code for “She’s not so attractive/slim.” Then I had Max, and when I heard “He’s got a great personality” I took it the wrong way.
As the parent of a child with disabilities, you can get a wee bit protective/defensive/utterly and completely neurotic about how others view them. That partly comes from experience—there are people who fail to see all of Max, including his abilities, and I so want them to. Max’s cerebral palsy is just one part of who he is.
For many years, I had a bad stereotype stuck in my head. When Max was a few years old, someone in my family noted that he smiled a lot because he was “simple-minded,” a comment that really pained me.
And so, when I’d get those “He’s got such a great smile!” comments, I’d feel as if that was the only positive thing people could think to say about him (well, besides how cute he was).
You can never erase experiences or awful things people say, but you can mature as a parent and develop a thicker skin. Max does have a sunny personality and a smile that lights up a room; they’re one of the most apparent things about him. Over time, I got past my sensitivity about how people perceived him and learned to take those compliments for what they were: compliments. I also realized that Max’s good cheer could encourage people to get better know him. I didn’t have to always pave the way for him to connect with people; he had the charm to do it himself. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and one of Max’s is his personality.
I was reminded of this recently, during Max’s IEP.
“He’s always got a smile on his face!” one of his therapists noted, before he walked in.
“Every class needs a Max!” announced a teacher.
And I beamed.
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