Saturday, November 9, 2013

Our kids in the media

When I walked into Kumon today with my boys, I was thrilled to see a pile of ParentsCanada magazines on the table with a cover photo of this adorable toddler, Hudson.

I looked inside, and was referred to page 8 for more on Hudson. 

There we learn how a photographer suggested him as a model and the editors thought "it would be nice to feature a child with Down syndrome on our November issue."

Why was it necessary to specify that Hudson had Down syndrome? 

It's phenomenal that this little guy is on the cover of the magazine, but why couldn't he be included as simply part of the vast "kid" landscape, which he is, rather than being "identified" as having a syndrome? Why couldn't he just be Hudson, with a descriptor about his personality or what he likes?

Would we expect to see a descriptor of a cover model like this: 

"We thought it would be nice to include an African American child on this issue."


"We thought it would be nice to include a child who wears glasses on this issue."

The fact of the matter is that there was no "story" inside about Down syndrome, so that part of his identity was immaterial to the photo description.

How about:

"We thought it would be nice to include a child with their arm in a cast on this issue."


"We thought it would be nice to include a child whose mother is an atheist on this issue.

None of this information is relevant to the pic of a gorgeous kid on the front of the magazine.

I think we'll have come a long way when magazines include stand-alone photos of children with disabilities as simply being who they are -- children!


Great post. I completely understand your feelings about this but I'm not sure I totally agree. After seeing David Roche speak, I like his approach about this. People are people. They are curious about differences. They want and need to know. So David had us all ask him right off the bat "What happened to your face?" He said once people know the story up front, they then--and only then-- see him for the person he is. He makes it easy on the others instead of getting annoyed that they don't see him as a person first like he used to. I think naturally people need the labels to get beyond them. I don't know that it is a terrible's just human. Maybe there needs to be more tolerance on our part too to help others accept our children for their humanity. It's like what Ade Adepitan said in your blog post, "There's only so long you can dwell on why this person has such and such and after that it’s more about the person’s personality" but maybe we need to dwell first to get to that place. And we need to be sympathetic to people's lack of experience as he also said so well: "Intolerance comes from ignorance and lack of knowledge and lack of knowledge comes from lack of experience. We need to mix all these different groups together from the age of three, four, five and stop separation. Separation is what creates intolerance."

Oh - forgot to add that David Roche's thing is all about "story". Everyone loves a story and we are all interested in the stories of others. I find people will look at my son with confusion. Then I will say "he suffered brain inflammation 2 years ago and is now developmentally delayed" or whatever, and then they are much more relaxed and interested in him. If they then have stereotypes about what that means, I may or may not be able to change that but leaving their curiosity a mystery to them I think makes it harder.

Hi Lucas' Mom -- I think the difference between David's situation and that of your son's is a lack of familiarity by others. Your son's disability is invisible -- so it makes sense that you would explain something that might confuse someone. In David's case, I'm assuming his facial difference is somewhat unique -- it's not something most people have seen and read about.

But in the case of Down syndrome, I think most people have seen a child with Down syndrome and know the features associated with that syndrome. Given that, when the photo is being used on the cover only (not with a story about Down syndrome), but as an example of a cute kid that will make for an attractive cover, I don't think any specific "explanation" is needed.

I'm not sure who would be "confused" by that cover. And I don't think there needs to be a specific "reason" for running a photo of a child with a disability on the cover. Other than the fact that they are a child. So I guess I agree that if there's a good chance that someone won't understand a difference it's helpful to explain it, I think at some point with conditions most people are familiar with, we need to get past that.

Thanks for writing!

ps -- what I meant was the difference between the cover photo of the child with Down syndrome and David's and your son's situations, is that in the latter there may be confusion as to what the difference is.

I think right now there is a "trend" if I can call it that of inclusion, particularly in the print media on covers and in ads. So the explanation is kind of like a "woo hoo! Look how inclusive we are!" on the publication's part. It's annoying but I guess we have to get past this part so that we have true inclusion where a cute kid is just a cute kid and nothing more or less.

I couldn't agree with you more Louise. Maybe if their covers were regularly inclusive of all types of kids, there wouldn't need to be a statement.