"Are you funny?" she asked me with a degree of seriousness that made the question seem like scientific enquiry. She was as cute as it's possible for a little girl to be, she had leveled her gaze at me the moment she'd seen me. I was sitting outside the apartment building while Joe was getting the car. She and her brother had been staying with people in the building for the weekend and her parents had just arrived to pick them up. Her mother was sitting on the bench beside me, keeping an eye on her while chatting with her friend from the building, her father was off chasing after her brother who was suprisingly light of foot.
When she asked me if I was funny, I didn't know how to take it. That word means so many different things. So I simply said, "What do you mean?" She clarified by saying, "There is a boy at school who is in a chair like that. He's really funny. Are you funny too?" Hmmmmm, this is kind of cool. She's experienced a kid at school with a disability, found that he had a quality she liked and now she wanted to know if that was an individual trait or a group trait. This integration thing works the way it's supposed to work I'd guess.
"Sometimes I can be funny," I said.
"There's another boy in class and he's different too."
"He looks like this..." Then she did things with her eyes and ears and I was able to guess ... "You mean he has Down Syndrome," I said.
Over the next couple of minutes I learn that she and the others haven't been told about this boy's disability. They've only been told that he's 'just like them' and that they aren't supposed to notice. This has made her both highly curious and highly suspicious of him. What could be so wrong with a kid that you couldn't talk about it. She's decided that its probably best to just stay away from him even though he seems nice.
I told her that all Down Syndrome meant was that he would have more difficulty learning. That right now it doesn't mean so much but as he gets older it will mean a little more. She wanted to know why they couldn't talk about it, I told her I didn't know, but there was no shame in having Down Syndrome and that she should give him chance.
"Do you think I should tell the teacher?" she asked.
"I think you should tell the teacher that being different is ok and that everyone should be proud of who they are, even the boy you don't talk about."
Just as we were finishing up she was called away by her mother, she smiled at me, "You really aren't very funny."
Everyone's a critic.
There is much I'd like to say about a little boy being placed into that situation. A disability denied. But I'm going to restrain myself and listen to you instead.