Maybe you've heard of this guy, Tim. He owns a restaurant where they serve breakfast, lunch, and hugs. He also has Down Syndrome.
I love Tim's story for so many reasons! It tells us not to be afraid to take chances, to follow our dream, to always show love to others, to never let a disability get you down... the list goes on. I would love to actually meet Tim in person someday by visiting his restaurant in Albuquerque.
Tim is great because he is inspiring others with his entrepreneurship, but mostly, I think, with his love.
When I was in elementary school, I befriended a kid with a mental disability. This fellow student came to eat lunch with my class everyday. The two of us would usually sit next to each other and as the year passed, we became friends. I honestly do not think we talked that much... but we had a connection. He liked to touch my ears which, according to his older sister, he only did to the people he really liked. I enjoyed being this guy's friend. He was super friendly and kind. He always greeted me with a smile and "Hello". He was sort of like Tim, just a little less of a hugger.
A few of my other classmates enjoyed teasing me about this friendship. One of their favorite insults was calling him my boyfriend. It was painful for me, but I mostly just felt sorry for those girls. They were missing out on a potentially great friendship.
Judging people based on a disability, how they look, walk, dress, their family -- whatever -- can cause a loss. Not for that person, but for the one inflicting the judgement. The person judging can, and probably is, missing out on a wonderful friendship.
Imagine walking into Tim's Place and Tim approaches you for a hug. Instead of extending your arms and returning the hug, you turn around and leave the restaurant, vowing never to return. Then, you tell everyone you know what a terrible restaurant it is (and you haven't even experienced it for yourself). When your friend visits Tim's Place and has nothing but great reviews, you refuse to believe him.
My advice: always reach out and return the hug. In fact, seek out the hug. Avoid the judgement, the stereotype. And encourage your kids to do the same. The person you thought would be the worst friend (disabled or not), might end up becoming your best friend.