Would your child point or stare at another child who was disabled?
Arizona mom Stacey Gagnon is used to shielding her disabled kids from hurtful gawks and whispers. But last week, this supermom couldn’t protect her 9-year-old son Joel, who was born with craniofacial deformities, from the alienation of his peers.
So, Stacey took to Facebook, posting this heart-wrenching plea for parents to teach their children about differences and their reactions.
Already parents to two biological children, Stacey, a nurse, and her husband Daren, a teacher, began fostering children with medical needs several years ago. They went on to adopt four children with varying disabilities, including spina bifida, Goldenhar syndrome, hearing impairments, limb differences, eosinophilic disease, and traumatic brain injury. They chronicle their life on a blog.
“I have served as a human shield for each of my children, but mainly for Joel,” Stacey tells Babble.
The incident that fueled the plea occurred in a church community room filled with children. Her oldest son was to speak to the group about camp, but as she recalled, “The minute we walked inside, the room became silent and every child stared or pointed at my son Joel,” Stacey posted. (He is missing an ear and has facial bone structure impairments.) “I stood at the door and watched every child look with eyes wide and mouths open at my child.”
Tearfully, Joel fled to hide, and Stacey quickly left with him. She later held her son inside the church while he sweetly drew ‘Joel loves Mom’ on her palm.
While my heart is breaking for Joel, the harsh reality is that this is a normal occurrence for the family. Stacey explains that this, unfortunately, has happened many times before. She normally steps in to talk about differences but, as she admitted, “Today, I did not teach someone else’s kid because I was too busy holding my broken-hearted son.”
She affirms that she does NOT think these children (or the ones that came before) are bad or mean kids. Rather, she believes that they haven’t been taught how to react to differences. Stacey is urging parents to not only talk to their kiddos about people’s differences but to actually show pictures of individuals with physical ailments to help children understand.
Stacey has personally educated Joel’s classmates by cleverly using fruit. Since he’s the apple of her eye, she brought three apples that were basically the same in color, size, etc. and one missing the stem with slightly different colored skin. The kids ate up the comparison — and learned about acceptance at the same time.
It’s clear Stacey’s story has hit home with many — more than 15K Facebook users have responded to the eye-opening post since it was shared on July 16. Her message is a simple reminder that we need to talk to our children about dissimilarities and reception.
“We can all relate to feeling awkward, ugly, or different at some point in life. But what I’d love people to know is that you have the power as a parent to teach your child how to respond and change an outcome for a child like Joel,” Stacey says.
However, the Gagnons also had something exciting to share — they will soon become a family of nine!
“We are bringing home a little girl from an orphanage this year that is two years old. She has limb differences [an amputated arm and foot],” said Stacey.
That girl will be lucky to have an amazing mom like Stacey. Thank you for sharing your message and congratulations on your growing family!