How different is Different?

Adults with Down Syndrome, Community Participation, Down Syndrome, Mother of an Adult with a Disability Add comments

Just when I think I’m over it, it happens again.

Billy and I are in a waiting room; across from us are two girls in their early teens. As we sit down, they look up and stare intently, unabashedly, at Billy. He doesn’t seem to notice, but I feel the blood rising to my face. I wait a moment, they are still staring. What do I do? I stare back until they realize I am looking at them and they turn away, embarrassed.

This is an issue I address in Grown Man Now, an issue that continues to bother me. Somehow I always feel that I need to make them aware of their rudeness. One strategy I adopted a few years ago was to say, “You seem interested in my son. Would you like to meet him?” That generated some interesting reactions and probably gave me some satisfaction.

We like to be different in many ways; that makes us interesting. We hate to see someone wearing the same outfit we have on, but where do we draw the line? Teenagers want to have the same shoes, the same hair styles. We want our yards to look like the one next door. When does the difference start to attract adverse attention?

I guess what I’m feeling is that it is impolite to stare at anyone, for any reason. Billy’s facial characteristics are noticeably different from those of most people. Does that give them the right to stare, or am I overly sensitive?

There was a young man working at Food City who asked me, “Does Billy have Down syndrome?” I answered in the affirmative, not knowing what his point was. He continued, “I like the way he looks.” Now he has my permission to stare!

What do you think?

9 Responses to “How different is Different?”

  1. john Says:

    That is a beautiful article. I think a lot of it is a lack of manners. My mother taught me better

  2. Linda Davis Says:

    It’s my opinion that people stare because they don’t know the correct way to act. They feel uncomfortable with themselves and feel ashamed and yes they are rude. I like your way of handling the situation. Asking them if they would like to meet him should make everyone involved feel at ease or at least be an ice breaker.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I think it's true that people stare for various reasons. Some people are curious; some rude and insensitive. I think it is just human nature to notice and be intrigued by someone who is different from us. As someone who appreciates beauty in all forms, I admit I tend to stare at things and people I find intriguing. But, of course, I don't snicker or look with disdain. I revel in the diversity of our species, but at the same time see our commonality and wish that all people would do the same.

  4. Tom Schulz Says:

    Fascination comes in many shiny packages. Fascination is receptive to methodologies of education. Disdain is irreconcilable – unable to be mediated by an exterior agency. Those who disdain do so with self-perceived impunity.

    Let's give them the silent treatment.

  5. Jane Schulz Says:

    Thank you for your input. I need to say that there are also people who look, smile, and move on. I also realize that as Billy is integrated into the community, as in his work and church, his difference attracts less adverse attention and in fact encourages positive interaction. Another plus for inclusion!

    Your comments are encouraging.

  6. got2reply Says:

    Some people have the ability to glance at others then look away. Some do not and they gaze longer than is socially acceptable; I believe that's what happened during this incident with the teenagers. Keep up the invitation for others to meet Billy. To know him is to love him… Pollye

  7. Embry Burrus Says:

    I think that when people stare, they are curious, not necessarily rude, especially children. I have found that when people stare at Margaret, my sister who has Down syndrome, if I just smile back at them, they smile, too, and then love has taken over where fear could have presided.

  8. Jane Schulz Says:

    Thank you Embry for your positive outlook. I agree that this is the best approach possible. This attitude could change the world!

  9. Says:

    Indeed, it could, Jane. What I realized a long time ago, is that if Margaret even knew someone was staring at her, she'd be thrilled, and her response would never be one of defensiveness. She would definitely smile back at them! One of the many things I've learned from her over a lifetime…I often think, "What would Margaret do?"

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