What’s wrong with him?

If I had a dollar for every time we’ve heard that question from a complete stranger …

Unfortunately it’s so often the first words – after some serious staring – when people see a child in a wheelchair or using a walking frame.

I’m pleased to say many people – like rollercoasterparenting – give the “correct” response:

“Nothing”

Some of us with older kids have grown rather tired of this question, which we have heard maybe 1000 times.

Very occasionally (well no more than twice a week) we may become a little too loquacious in our response to an impolite, curious stranger:

“Why – is there something wrong with you that you want to tell me about?”

The stranger looks perplexed, mildly shocked.

“You don’t want to tell me about any of your medical conditions?”

Looking very shocked now, vigorous head shaking, sometimes accompanied by the slow dawn of realisation that they have asked a really intrusive, rude question of an adult they don’t know about a child who is sitting right in front of them.

It’s just words, I know, but words are important.

For the record – there’s nothing wrong with him. In fact, I think he’s perfect. He’s a regular annoying, noisy teenage boy with robust good health and poor taste in jokes who uses a wheelchair to get around because that’s easier and faster than walking with the help of a walking frame.

But I don’t discuss my family’s medical conditions in public with complete strangers. Do you?

So the next time you are curious, that’s fine, but think before you speak. And if you ask me about my kid’s medical condition, I’m likely to ask you about yours. In detail. In public.

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2 Comments

Filed under activevoice1

2 responses to “What’s wrong with him?

  1. Jodie

    I do hate that question also. You have some great responses. I may borrow them one day. Another comment that drives me mad is “Oh, is she tired?” I think they know she isn’t tired, just another way of asking “what is wrong with her?” What is wrong with these people?

  2. Glee

    As an adult I too am often asked this question by complete strangers and it always blows me away. I love your response and I will use it next time.

    I actually have a T shirt with “Don’t Ask” on the front and “or I’ll bash ya” on the back. In Rundle Mall one day I was sitting having a break and noticed a man in a wheelchair looking at me and circling. Eventually he came up and asked “where did you get that tshirt?”. I said “I don’t have to tell you what it means do I?” he said “no I get it and I want one”. It was a meeting of like minds and a wonderful moment.

    and another time I was waiting to cross at the lights and noticed a man who was sitting having coffee at a footpath cafe looking at me and smiling and pointing me out to his partner. I thought I must know him or vice versa so I went over. He said he liked my tshirt. I asked “what do you think it means?” he said “i spose it’s that people ask you about your disability in public with no decent reason” YEP. What an insightful abloid and an interaction that delighted us both!

    Sometimes I make up a fantastic and exciting story about “what’s wrong with you”. I was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy which is not at all “sexy”. so I say I fell off while mountain climbing, skiing accident, shot in the war or somesuch. It’s fun for me cos their faces are so funny and their ignorant self serving curiosity so pathetic. The next time I do this I am going to then say ” that was all a big lie cos it’s none of your bloody business so the jokes on you”.

    Jodie asked “what is wrong with these people?” The thing wrong with them is that they believe that there is nothing wrong with them!!!

    cheers
    Glee

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