Saturday, November 25, 2006

Disabled Boy and Dog Story

There's this 'heartwarming' story circling around, one of those stories people incessantly forward around. I've written about a few of these before, I think.
This one starts with a farmer whose dog has puppies. He puts up a sign 'free puppies'and soon enough, a boy comes over to see the puppies. The man calls them out. The mother comes out, followed by three energetic puppies. Then a fourth puppy comes limping out, noticeably smaller than the other three.The boy says "I want that one." indicating the disabled puppy.
The farmer replies: "You don't want that puppy. That puppy can't run, can't play with you. Get one of the other puppies."
Rolling up a pant leg, the boy shows a leg brace and says: "I don't run too well either. That puppy needs someone who understands."
Clearly, that boy is a wonderful, compassionate boy who empathizes with that puppy. That is what's usually recognized about that story by the people who forward it around. But what about the farmer?
The farmer seems to think that there is only one way to have fun with a puppy, a way that the disabled puppy isn't good at. He seems to think that a puppy who can't run fast is not a puppy an ordinary boy can enjoy. Only a disabled boy who also can't run would want such a puppy.
Imagine how this would feel to the boy. Being told that one puppy is not worth as much as the other puppies because that puppy is different in the same way you are different. No doubt this boy will have been given the message that he is inferior many times, and this is yet another time.
It never stops hurting, though the individual incidents blend together. I was told by many people, directly or indirectly, that I was inferior. My teachers tried to emotionally bully me into conforming, when even if I was willing to conform, I couldn't. Later I had a teacher who I'm beginning to suspect gave me less pressure out of pity and a class full of kids who bullied and/or excluded me constantly. Each incident hurt. They hurt all the more because I was used to being told I was worthless.
I wonder if the farmer's words made the boy even more determined to have that puppy, made him empathize even more with that one puppy. I wonder how that boy felt about revealing his disability to the farmer, about using it to convince the farmer to give him that puppy.I wonder if he felt ashamed of his leg brace, if he, too, thought a boy/puppy who couldn't run fast wasn't as good as one who could.
[Edit: Just as I was saving this, I remembered something else that bothered me about this story. The boy's disability was not immediately apparent, so the farmer assumed he was normal. In talking about the dog, the farmer was speaking as one normal to another, saying things directly that he might have tried to hide from a visibly disabled boy. He assumed that the disabled were the 'other' in that conversation. That, too, hurts. When I'm talking to someone about autism I feel compelled to tell them I'm autistic to keep them from assuming autistics are the other in the conversation. It hurts when they assume I consider myself superior to autistics, when in fact I am one of them.]

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