Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Recently I posted on my Facebook status that some people work hard to change the world and some people change the world just by being who they are. I don’t know if this is a phrase I’ve coined but I don’t recall reading it anywhere else.

I really like this thought and I hope it’s mine. Hold on a sec. I’m going to Google it … nope, seems it’s mine.

Where did it come from? I’ve been obsessing lately about the acceptance of people with differences. You would think this is a constant in my life. There are huge differences in my family.

Firstly, my father lost his left arm and lower part of both legs when he was 18. This was 73 years ago. But Dad was exceptional from birth. My grandmother had said that when he was growing up she gave up having conversations with him because she was ‘always wrong’. Yep, he has the determination to always be right. And he has the determination to always do things his way. He has an incredible intelligence in many respects; a logical thinker and planner who works through things to see how they operate and to see if there is a better way. But he has also been an arsehole because of this mind-set and rarely wakes up to how he hurts people.

In my way of thinking about this though, Dad would not have survived physically or mentally without his mental wiring. And I also know after my own experiences that few could possibly conceive of the horror he went through with his accident and subsequent rehabilitation, the ongoing problems he has had with health and healing throughout his live AND the prejudices he has had to fight all his adult life just to live the way he wants to.

People see a man missing limbs and automatically assume he’s missing large portions of his brain too. The behaviours have ranged from patronisation and condescension to downright rejection of him as someone who could work or drive or live as the average person does.

That fight has always been part of his life. The whopping chip on his shoulder is always present. And so it is inspirational that he has achieved many things in life beyond mere survival. He has married and raised a family of four children, worked in numerous jobs such as electrician, businessman, retailer, journalist/editor and so on. Going into business for himself was necessary in midlife because people would not employ him on the basis of his disabilities. It’s easy to say they wouldn’t get away with that today … but in fact people do despite the laws. Dad even took on the State Government in the late 1950s/early60s in the courts because he was refused the right to have a drivers’ licence. He won! It is his battle that earned people with a physical disability the right to drive a car! Most people don’t know this. I didn’t until quite recently.

So having said all this about Dad, how is it he cannot cope with my daughter who also has a disability? The problem is, my daughter’s disability is intellectual or perhaps behavioural. It’s a hard one to describe and even categorise.

Doctors first said she was autistic and the diagnosis has evolved over the years to become, finally – that she has a severe intellectual disability at the mild end of the scale! Ha! They say she is not autistic yet she does have some autistic traits.

What I believe is that the part of the brain which processes language does not function in the same way as the average person. This means she is not able to learn in the way most of us do through verbal communications. Yet she is very bright in visual respects. Her use of the computer is quite good, she is reasonable at numbers, and a whiz operating the remote control of the TV.

She is also exceptionally friendly. It means shopping with daughter in tow takes much, much longer because she greets everyone she meets. This brings a smile to the faces of most people, but sometimes there is cold resistance.

My daughter may not grow up to save the planet. She may not develop a cure for cancer or run a multinational corporation or write a best seller. Most of us don’t. But perhaps just by being who she is, she will inspire a smile on the face of someone who will. And I’m learning to value a thing I’m dubbing the Smiling Ripple Effect.

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