Friday, October 12, 2018

My daughter is not an animal at the zoo

By Christina Herbers

We saw pandas! We saw lemurs! We saw bears and zebras and hippos.

We were just a family visiting the zoo.

And then we heard it: “Mom, I don’t like her face.” And, “Dad, what is that face?” And we saw you shooing your kids away from us, as if we were somehow contagious. And oh, the staring!

Yep, this still happens to us. In fact, it happened on our summer family trip to the Calgary zoo.

On a brighter note, there was an older man who came up to my husband and shook his hand. He told him that the umbrella that we use to shade my daughter Jaina’s eyes from the sun had shifted, and that her eyes were in the sun. To him, I say thank you. Thank you for not being afraid of us. Thank you for seeing us. Thank you for holding a door open for us. Thank you for teaching your kids and grandkids that it’s okay to talk to us! 

Questions are a natural part of human behaviour. So maybe it’s not your children's questions that are the problem, but that you don't want to hear the answers?

How can your child know the answer to “what is that face?” if you don't ask me? If you ask, I will tell you about the car accident we were in when I was pregnant with Jaina. She isn't able to move her face that well because of her brain injury. She isn't able to smile. She isn't able to close her mouth. She suffered from a brain injury before she was born.

She has always been this way. 

She is also mellow and calm and quiet.

Talking about why my daughter is different from the rest of us may be natural for your kids, but please know that we hear you. Respect us.

Teach your kids that we are all different. Different colours, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, ages, beliefs and abilities. Teach your kids that it’s okay to be different. I can’t think of any two people who are exactly the same. Can you? Even the pairs of identical twins that I know who look the same have their own individual personalities.

Please don’t treat my daughter like a caged animal at the zoo. Don’t stare and comment and point and judge. Talk to us. Ask your questions, and take the time to listen to our answers.

Let’s work on seeing each other for who we really are. Because in the end, aren’t we all just people, trying to make it through this journey called life?

Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear from you!

Did you like this story? Sign up to receive our monthly BLOOM e-letter in your inbox. It includes our latest stories on families raising children with disabilities and the work of clinicians and researchers at Holland Bloorview and beyond. Plus links to mainstream disability news, new books, and shout-outs to people and groups making the world more accessible.


I'm so thrilled to see Christina Herbers here as a writer!

Thank you Christina for sharing your story and your wise words. It is our responsibility to teach our children well - moving beyond tolerance to acceptance and then celebration of ALL different kinds of people. I think folks forget that diversity includes disability too.

Thank you for this post. I have been that parents whose child will ask a question about someone who looks different. My son was born with a congenital birth defect - but it is not visible, so he does not 'look' different but he knows he is. We always talk about how everyone has something they are dealing with. On occasion - I have taken a deep breath and said to my son - lets ask together if we can meet the child and see that no matter what - you will always have things in common with people and things that are different. On several occasions, the kids get to playing and that is the end of it.

On the other hand, my son's medical issues affect his behavior greatly. So, very often I am the one getting stared at and judged. He looks typical, so there is no way for anyone to understand the fire storm going on within his body.