It’s not often I do a ranty style post but I have had one of those weeks when I am just proud that I have managed to get out of bed each day and even prouder that I have actually managed to get dressed!
So here goes.
As you know, my youngest son is blind. He has been blind from birth, so after 10 years, we have moved on from that initial shock and despair to total acceptance. He is a very typical ten year old boy, currently obsessed with
farting bodily functions and rap music. He attends a mainstream school, he is never far from his iPad, he hates having a wash and he loves telling his twin sister that girls are rubbish.
He is able to be a typical ten year old because we have spent hours ensuring he is not treated differently, that he is given boundaries and reprimanded, that he gets the same opportunities as his sighted peers and generally doing all we can to make certain he appreciates that although he may do things differently (e.g. read braille and use a brailler), he is not different to his peers. He can do everything they can, although it may be slightly more difficult for him or he may have to work that little bit harder.
So, please, when you see him do not say “oh bless him“. The number of people who say this is unbelievable. It’s as if everyone thinks that because his eyes don’t work, his ears have stopped working too. He can hear you!
Now a quick disclaimer here:
- if you wish to say this to me during a conversation then fine, so long as he is not present
- if you wish to say this to your colleague when we are totally out of ear shot, then fine
- if you are a Vicar/Priest and wish to say this to him as a genuine blessing, then go for it
What does Oh Bless Him mean to us
I know you mean well – I am not totally irrational – but let’s think about what you are actually saying to him.
- “Oh bless him, what a shame”
- “Oh bless him, the poor little thing”
- “Oh bless him, that is so unfair”
It is not a shame, he is not a poor little thing and although, yes, it may sometimes feel unfair, it’s absolutely not the worst thing in the world. He is healthy, he is mobile, he can communicate. He does not spend days or weeks at the hospital, he does not have to rely on someone to move him from room to room, he does not need a communication aid to chat with you, he can watch YouTube without any help, he can download music on Spotify without any help and like many 10 year olds, he is starting to find humour in the various “naughty words” he hears.
When you are offering him sympathy as he walks by, you are giving him a really mixed message.
As we are telling him to go for it, he is hearing “maybe not”. When we are telling him “being blind doesn’t mean you are allowed to be obnoxious”, he is hearing “oh the poor little thing, how can you tell him off”. And yes, I have been given the filthiest looks by total strangers when I have reprimanded him in public. And by reprimand I mean “Stop” “Don’t do that” “That is not acceptable” not a slap around the ear or a verbally abusive tirade.
Behaviour which may be cute at 8 or 10, will not be so cute when he is 18 or 20. My job is to ensure that he knows this. My job is to raise a young man who understands how to behave and act in public without fear of repercussions. If he is constantly hearing “oh bless him” then he is getting a message that actually he can get away with whatever he likes. He can’t.
I think what makes this even more difficult for us is the lack of “oh bless him”s when our eldest son, who doesn’t have a visible disability, acts in a similar fashion. K has autism and he finds some social rules and settings difficult. He can be very vocal when he is anxious and he is also exceptionally tall for his age so looks much older. When he has a meltdown because his anxiety levels have just shot through the roof, we get the same level of attention from people nearby but instead of “oh bless him”, we get lots of comments about our parenting and lack of discipline.
Ideally, he needs a lot more of the “oh bless him” type comments because even though it can sound patronising, it is much easier to hear than some of the horrible things people have said to us. So many people have this absurd dismissive attitude towards autism – but that’s another post for another day.
Most people would be shocked to hear that our blind son also has autism. They don’t see the autism though, they see the white cane and therefore their sympathy overflows. When J is having a full on tantrum because I said no, this is somehow, more socially acceptable because he has a white cane. The “oh bless him”s help to perpetuate this myth for him.
So, although you mean well, please Bugger Off with your “oh Bless Him”. Say it in your head, say it when you get home but please try to not say it in front of him.