Don’t Disrespect People with Developmental Disabilities

by Donna Kirk on July 14, 2015

As the mother of Matthew, a young man with developmental disabilities, I often had to “handle” strangers who chose to make comments about my son, in front of him.

Matthew wasn’t stupid and he wasn’t deaf. And he understood everything that was said.

The absolute worst example of this kind of witlessness happened when my mother, Matthew and I were in the fruit and vegetable store of a posh Etobicoke mall. Matt was a teenager at the time and small for his age. He was impatient for me to finish my shopping and get the ice cream I’d promised.

Because he didn’t used words to express himself, his communication methods – loud grunts and hand signs, which only a select few understood – were unusual and probably strange to many. But his challenges were obvious and he was a handsome young man. I liked to assume that strangers “got it”.

Not always. Sometimes people, who I assumed from their appearance and their surroundings – in this case, an older, well dressed lady with a child of about seven in an upscale neighbourhood – would be more savvy.

The little girl watched Matthew gesture and call to me, as any child of her age would and did. I smiled at her, took my son’s hand and continued shopping.

The woman, standing nearby, pulled the child away. “Don’t go near him, he’s sick,” she said. Then she led her out of the store.

I signalled to my mother. She knew what I was about to do and took Matthew’s hand. “Don’t upset yourself further dear,” she said. “That woman isn’t worth it.”

I stood and thought a moment. My mother was right. She wasn’t worth it. But the child was. I ran out of the store and soon caught up – they were only a short distance away.

“Excuse me,” I said, stopping in front of the woman. “You have done this little girl a great disservice.”

She stared at me.

“You gave her information that will forever damage her view of people like my son Matthew”

The woman clutched the child’s hand.

I bent down to the little girl and smiled. “Honey, I really, really, really want you to know that the boy you saw just now is not sick. He has an intellectual disability. I know his voice sounds different to you. He was asking for an ice cream cone.”

The child smiled.

“Do you like ice cream?”

She nodded.

“See, honey. Matthew is just like you.”

I stared into the woman’s eyes for longer than I should have, then walked away.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle Sim July 15, 2015 at 10:48 am

Oh Donna…crying! Too many times I’ve had this happen with my precious Paul. He is so very sensitive and continues to pine for a relationship and friends, etc. I thank GOD that I’ve had Paul so I KNOW to be compassionate to all human beings, whatever their challenges are, and we all have them.
Thank you Donna,


Donna Kirk July 15, 2015 at 11:39 am

Michelle, kindred spirits we are indeed…Thanks for you comment.


Miriam October 18, 2015 at 6:01 pm

You’re an awesome Mom! I applaud your courage.


Donna Kirk October 18, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Thanks, Miriam.


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