By Sonam Patel May. 11, 2022
As the mother of a special needs child, the Indigo incident was triggering. For it brought back memories of the times where I have fought discrimination and societal ignorance to get my child to be treated fairly.
People say ‘you will know what Parenting means when you become a parent yourself.’ And it is kind of true. Parenting is an adventure where you are unaware of your upcoming challenges but you keep going and you enjoy every bit of it. These words sound magical, right? But what if a couple is pregnant and they come to know about a diagnosis that they never expected? What if you come to know that your child will be different from others? The earth flips on its head, but as a parent you still must keep going. It’s a journey I have been on for a long time, so much so I’ve normalised it for my own sake. But witnessing a special needs kid being denied his right to board a flight triggered me into remembering all the things that I wish not to.
Due to board a flight from Ranchi and Hyderabad, an adolescent child was denied boarding by Indigo’s on-ground staff in Ranchi. Restless and confused the child had arrived at the airport hungry and thirsty but was soon calmed by food and hugs. Parents usually know their way around such situations. But to an Indigo manager on the ground, the child was a ‘threat to other passengers’. Like most people, I read this account through social media posts and articles and it felt dehumanising to the point that it resurrected fears I have had to live with throughout my life as a mother. A non-apology offered by Indigo, where they offered to ‘buy an electric wheelchair’ only made matters worse.
It was not easy to accept that my child would be called ‘a special needs child’ someday. But, we took everything in our stride and started the most adventurous journey of our lives.
I gave birth to a baby with several complications. It was not easy to accept the fact that this journey was going to be tough. It was not easy to accept that my child would be called ‘a special needs child’ someday. But, we took everything in our stride and started the most adventurous journey of our lives. From dealing with all the triggers to going through therapy, we have done it all. All we ever sought, and probably parents like us seek for their kids is respect and dignity but sometimes, society fails them.
Indigo subsequently arranged for a special flight for the family the next morning and provided a hotel stay. But none of it in my opinion makes up for the trauma and pain that the parents went through. How does the wheelchair ensure that the kid’s mental health won’t be affected? Or that the family will ever have the confidence to take to public spaces with the confidence and control it takes years to build. This incident has triggered me on many levels. What if the same incident happens to my child or for that matter any other child?
Like adults who seek solace in respect and dignity, so do kids, because they don’t suffer from the way they are, but by the way people treat them.
As a special needs parent, we just seek love and empathy from society. We are not seeking sympathy; we don’t need approval but only acceptance. People need to know that special needs children may be different but they are not harmful. They, like all living beings, understand the language of love. When you see a kid in a panic situation don’t judge them or label them as ‘abnormal’. If you can’t extend a helping hand, the best thing to do is just leave.
In this modern era there is a lot more awareness around special needs children, and yet we see such terrifying incidents. It tells me sensitivity is a virtue, not everyone will offer. Yes, there are rules, and jobs designed to impose those rules, but at some point humanity must intervene to make better judgments. We talk about inclusion but society failed a mother. It failed a child who deserved love and respect. It failed a father who desired equal rights for his kid. There are so many parents, many that I know of, who fear exposing their kids to the world because while they might be able to deal with the politics of ridicule, their impressionable kids might not. Trauma can take so many forms but for humans who are largely misunderstood it runs the risk of being internalised to the point that it becomes a handicap in itself.
As a special needs parent, we just seek love and empathy from society. We are not seeking sympathy; we don’t need approval but only acceptance.
It’s hard to predict what triggers children, just about any child, into things they do. From crying at the top of their lungs to screaming for things they want, kids go through an array of emotions that they themselves cannot comprehend. It doesn’t make them unfit, or disabled, it just makes them childish. Because that is what they are – kids. And like adults who seek solace in respect and dignity, so do kids, because they don’t suffer from the way they are, but by the way people treat them. It’s something I have learned the hard way, and so has the rest of this country, especially the two brave souls who stood their ground, alongside their son at the Ranchi airport. You three are my heroes!