There is a highly emotional story making the rounds in the news world these days and I’m more than a little frightened to jump into the fray because I think I’m on the bad guy side.
The situation is that a second grader with spinal muscular atrophy was taking his class picture. They had the students set up on a bleacher and the kids didn’t quite fill the section leaving about one kid’s width room on the side. Miles Ambridge, confined to his wheelchair, was moved as close to the edge of the bleachers as possible but this left about a three-foot gap between him and the nearest child. The gap was the extra bit of bleacher along with the wheels of the wheelchair. The kids were also sitting up very straight with their hands in their laps adding to the perceived gap.
His mother saw the picture and decided that her son was being ostracized by the adults who organized the picture. Miles’ father is incensed because Miles seems so happy with his big smile in the picture. “He’s naive as to how people treat him” was the comment.
Some people commented that he should have been taken out of the wheelchair and placed with the other students but that seems to me to be an unlikely possibility. Moving someone with a severe spinal disease onto a bench with a bunch of other potentially squirmy kids? At best they could have sat in an off-center position to the edge of the bench and the gap would have been decreased by half but there still would have been a gap. Maybe they could have ditched the bleachers altogether but it’s likely the camera was setup with lighting designed for that position.
The picture I’ve included above is an example of being ostracized. When I was in sixth-grade they conducted an interesting exercise with us. They asked us a complex math problem and told us to figure it out in our heads. They wanted answers from two of us, me the nerd, and the pretty, popular girl. I had one answer. She had another. They asked us to move to opposite sides of the room and told everyone join the person they thought was right. I was alone and ostracized in the little game in the way I often felt in real life. It’s not fun to be ostracized. Kids can be very cruel. Adults can be awful as well.
Here’s my take, I just don’t think Miles was ostracized. Miles is different. He’s in a wheelchair and can’t sit on the bench. There’s no denying that fact. By making such a fuss the parents are not helping, they’re actually emphasizing that he’s different. It’s hard to tell from one picture but he looks like a pretty happy kid.
We can’t make other people be nice to us. We can’t stop kids from being cruel to one another over differences, real or perceived. Some kids will be mean to Miles but there are others who will not, particularly if Miles is happy with the way he is. We should teach kids to be themselves and accept their real limitations while striving to attain their maximum potential. To make good friends, do as well as they can, to have fun.
I’ve got some advice for you, Miles. If someone ostracizes you because of your disability, screw them. Keep smiling, be friends with the kids who like you for being you, wheelchair and all. Be good at what you’re good at, it won’t be sports or sitting in the bleachers. Your parents aren’t improving your life by forcing people to be “fair” to you. However, if you keep smiling like that you’ll end up with real friends and a great life.
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