Extend a hand of friendship

Published 10:08 pm Thursday, October 17, 2019

To the editor:

Do you know of a person with a disability? Chances are, you do. Maybe someone in your family has a mental or physical disability, or you may daily encounter someone who does. Hopefully you treat him/her with courtesy and respect. The U.S. population of people with Down syndrome has been estimated to be more than 400,000; more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Sadly, many in this situation are ignored or treated badly. Should we turn away from those who are different? Imagine how it feels. The beautiful truth is, we all are human, created with unique gifts and talents. We are all masterpieces; we all have purpose.

This month is Down Syndrome Awareness Month; April is Autism Awareness Month. There are various types of disabilities, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Autism is near and dear to my heart, as I am the parent of one of these dynamic souls. I have come to love the way that he is a stickler for routine, and all of his “quirks.” Children with special needs often remind me of autumn leaves; they glow and color our world. They are here to teach us how to love.

Email newsletter signup

Some disabilities are apparent; some are not easily seen. We can obviously help someone with a physical handicap (opening a door, carrying a bag, etc.). One can be a little more creative in helping those without physical limitations. Talk to your child about special needs children at school; encourage him/her to be a “buddy” or to assist a child that may need help. There may be a special needs child on a public playground needing a friend to swing with. The smallest gesture can make a world of difference. Bullying/teasing/exclusion continue to be issues among young people. Yet we claim to be progressing in acceptance. Are we teaching our children to make this world a better place?

We need diversity in our world, and I believe that diversity creates opportunity. Opportunity to help others, reach out, to see things in a different light. In what ways can we help those with disabilities? Be kind, become a friend, volunteer. Providing work experience for teens and adults is very important in helping to focus on their abilities and to become more self-sufficient. Disabled individuals are employed at half the rate of workers their own age who are not disabled. Advocating for them or teaching them to advocate for themselves is equally wonderful.

Most of us feel lonely or depressed at some point in our lives, but for those who are disabled, it can be constant. Fear of rejection can also cause social issues. Feelings of loneliness/rejection/exclusion can be more painful and distressing than the actual disability. It costs absolutely nothing to give a smile or a gesture of friendship. Let’s work toward awareness, acceptance and inclusion, shall we? “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Marie Baggett