In my self-imposed challenge to blog my way through the alphabet about special needs parenting, the letter Z was always going to offer up limited options.
But Zoo actually seems an appropriate word to end on, because although people often say “It’s a jungle out there” and give other animal sayings about life, I can see a lot of similarities with ours and Zoos.
That’s not to say I think special needs kids are like exotic animals at all but I do get the sense sometimes that society does and certainly some medical professionals we have met are worryingly interested in the differences my daughter presents rather than how to help her achieve similarities with her non disabled peers.
Sadly, we seem to be living in an age when difference and individuality are seen as threatening and the general consensus is to dress like a favourite celebrity and mimic their personality.
It’s a shame because everyone has the potential to be an amazing version of themselves instead of a carbon copy of someone else.
When your child stands out as being different, even though they have not chosen to be, it can be a struggle to find strength in that and swim against the tide.
It can at times feel like we are living in a Zoo, on the wrong side of the fence to everyone else.
They are usually busy, but people are much more interested in gawping at the animals on the other side of the fence than at us for once.
The paths in Zoos are usually wide and wheelchair friendly although the barriers are often at the wrong height for little eyes at buggy or wheelchair level.
We have to lift her out and up at this point for her to experience the wonderment of looking at one end or the other of an unusual animal.
Whilst I listen to other parents explaining (if their kids are lucky!) that the animal they are looking at is a Meerkat and from Africa like they studied at school, I keep it simple by saying “Meerkat not Cat!”
Am I wrong to keep information at this level? Does it matter that my seven year old does not know where Africa is let alone have a concept of other countries or even the globe?
Of course not. What’s important is to smell the little critters, look at their fluffy tails and watch them scamper about.
I actually took my mum on her 70th Birthday for a ‘Meerkat experience’ at a local Zoo.
She didn’t think about where they come from or what their social hierarchy is when they were sat on her lap eating live meal worms from her palm.
The feel of their fur, the look in their beady little eyes and yes probably the smell (they really reek of pee!) is what made her ‘experience’ and what she remembers fondly now.
I think then that our time at the Zoo with Lucy is just as if not more enjoyable than for families who don’t have special needs kids.
Yes the toilet changing facilities could be 100% better, but apart from that it is a place where you can take things at face value and have your own personal experience rather than a set one.
Zoos are also places where differences are on display and celebrated, they are places to marvel at nature in all its glorious forms, what better lesson to teach your kids?
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