It seems that I am confronted with the reality of my daughter’s disabilities weekly. Various situations trigger the familiar feeling of being sucker-punched in the gut as, once again, I am catapulted closer to full recognition that my daughter is different. Sometimes it’s the public meltdown or the flapping hands or her stilted gait. Tonight, it was Caroline’s Cart.
If you are unfamiliar with Caroline’s Cart, follow the link here to learn more. Basically, it’s a cart that Target provides for larger special needs children. When I first spotted one at our local Target, I assumed physically disabled individuals would utilize them and I thought it was a great idea. When my daughter first spotted one tonight at our local Target, she assumed it was designed just for her.
KBear does have developmental dyspraxia, some hypotonia, and sensory issues, which do make her tolerance of physical activity to be minimal. She also has some autistic traits, which make her inflexible and perseverative. But, these issues are hidden. And they can be particularly hidden because she is also cognitively gifted. She (sometimes) appears typical. She (sometimes) appears smarter than the average bear. She appears able to walk throughout a store without issue. And so, while sitting in Caroline’s Cart, she appears to be stealing a modified medically necessary piece of equipment out from underneath someone who really needs it.
As KBear approached the cart after having already made it through 2 previous stores, I could sense that her senses were near overload. She gave me all the red flags and signs that a meltdown was possible. She indicated that she was tired and needed to sit. She no longer fits in “regular” baby or child seats. She pointed at Caroline’s Cart and, with full baby-voice on (one of her cues that she’s had enough), she said, “Mine. KBear need.”
95% of me wanted to say, “You don’t really need that cart. It’s made for people with disabilities.” 95% of me didn’t want to fully acknowledge that my daughter does, actually have a disability. 95% of me feared the assumptions and judgments that others might send our way because she doesn’t look like she needs a modified cart.
But, the other 5% of me said, “OK. Get in,” because it was able to acknowledge that without the cart, she’d meltdown and her hypotonic, dyspraxic legs just couldn’t actually walk her through the store, even though they look like they should be able to.
That 5% of me did, once again and with the accompanying sinking feeling in my gut, accept that she does indeed have a disability. It can be very confusing and difficult to accept, because at some points she can have the most quick-witted, mature sense of humor or the deepest, most philosophical conversation about the meaning of life. At some moments, it becomes easy to deny that she also has these disabilities. But, that 5% of me said, “Nope, she is humorous and philosophical and needs a special needs cart.
That 5% of me also decided to plow forward into judgment. If I claim to want hidden disabilities to become visible, acknowledged, and accepted, then I need to stop hiding them. I need to stand in my own discomfort and challenge the typical concept of what special needs means. I need to show the world that my daughter can appear “normal”, can be gifted, and can also need Caroline’s Cart.
We did, indeed, receive several judgmental looks from passers-by. And even though I like to pretend that those looks don’t bother me, they do a little. I found myself justifying the use of the cart over and over in my own head. But, it was a step. A step toward more fully accepting my daughter as she is. A step toward educating people that disabilities come in all shapes and sizes.
And, even if none of those things happened, at least we avoided a meltdown in the middle of Target.