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I still remember an experience in college, when my friend took me to his home. He introduced me to all his family members, including his uncle, except that for me, this introduction was a bit of a surprise!! His uncle was a midget. Even though I had heard about midgets and probably seen them too on television or in the circus, coming face to face with one was a completely different and probably, life-changing experience.
A similar humbling experience years later was professionally, when I started out as a writer. Even though I had interacted with my editor several times over the phone, our first face-to-face meeting was a bit of a shock to me. The man was without any hands and legs, and moved around mainly on his torso and slight growths on his leg part. For editing work, he used similiar hand growths to where the fingers would have been.
The question that I want to pose through this article is how do we raise our children in a world full of people, who look and behave differently than any "typical" individual. Should we "physically shield" or prevent our kids from having these experiences? Also, should parents of "differently-abled" children "physically shield" their kids from interacting with the "typical" kids?
For me, the answer is a big NO. Whether we accept it or not, the world is always going to have people who look different (physically challenged), who behave differently (autistic or hyperactive as an example), and who have different sexual preferences (LGBT community). At some point in their life, our kids are going to come across such individuals either in their social circles or work environment. The earlier they are educated by their parents, the better it is for them, not only for developing respect for different individuals, but also for their overall personal growth. Unfortunately, our schools are not helping, as they not only group similar kids (the U.S. trend of having classes and schools for "gifted" kids), but also keep out "different" kids from mainstream schooling.
The fact of matter is that social barriers are breaking down around the world. I am sure the first "fat" man in public space must have got a lot of stares!! Now we accept fat people and people who stutter, as part of the social fabric. The idea is to extend this social acceptance to all categories of "different" people, and help our children grow accepting a world full of different and diverse people.