Curious about a disability? Asking questions is preferred.
Fifteen-month-old Kinsley Pruitt was born prematurely with major health issues. For the most part, she appears to be like most other toddlers — learning to walk and explore the world around her — except she has a G-tube. This is a tube that comes out of her abdomen and allows her to be fed directly into her stomach.
Because of the G-tube and other health issues she encountered as an infant, she doesn’t suck a pacifier or eat with a bottle — things many adults associate with soothing a child. Kinsley’s mother, Shelly, endures stares and negative comments when Kinsley is fussy and not able to be soothed in these ways. She has found that people will judge rather than learn.
“I would rather people ask questions,” Shelly said. “So many people have stared and looked at us. They can do that, but I wish I could explain what I’m doing and why.”
She says adults could take a lesson from kids: Children tend to understand differences better than adults because they’re willing to. They want to learn.
Shelly recommends some questions that might help start a conversation with someone with a disability:
• I’m curious about what you’re doing. Are you comfortable telling me or would you rather not?
• Can I ask what you’re doing?
• Could you explain what you’re doing?
It can be difficult to start the conversation, but asking questions — rather than judging or staring — is at the foundation of having compassion. By asking permission or asking in a nonjudgmental way, you are being respectful and accepting as you broaden your own knowledge about the unique challenges faced by others.
And when we have compassion for others, we cultivate happiness in ourselves and in those around us. We feel more a part of a community and we create a kinder place to live.
For Shelly, coping with Kinsley’s medical issues is enough of a challenge. Kindness and understanding goes a long way in easing her stress.
“As a parent, I know that I have to find the positive in everything,” she said. “There was a time I didn’t think I’d see past day two. But now Kinsley’s doing great and moving in the right direction.”
– Maggie Roetker