Ep 237: Visible and Invisible Differences

Meg Zucker, author of Born Extraordinary, busts myths about visible and invisible differences. She offers up language for how to speak to our teens about inclusivity and tips for parenting kids with differences.

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Full show notes 

Many parents want their teens to be compassionate citizens who care about people of all kinds. Others might Yet, it can be difficult to advise our teen on how to interact with people who are visibly different from us. We know people with differences are just as capable as anyone, yet sometimes it’s hard not to focus on the difference until that is all there is. We know there is more to someone than their difference—but how do we do better? 

To help us understand how to speak with our teens about differences, we spoke with Meg Zucker, author of the new book Born Extraordinary: Empowering Children with Differences and Disabilities. Meg is the founder and president of Don't Hide It, Flaunt It, a nonprofit with the mission of advancing understanding and mutual respect for people's differences. She was born with a genetic condition called ectrodactyly, and has one finger on each hand, shortened forearms and one toe on each misshapen foot. Her two sons have the same condition and her adopted daughter has her own invisible differences. 

Meg, through parenting with her husband, running her non-profit, her own experiences, and in researching for her book, has become an expert in all things differences—visible and invisible. She offers new insights into sticking points for people with differences and how everyone can think differently about differences.  

The Urge to Help

Meg explains that, above all, we should keep in mind people with differences are people. People with differences are usually just as capable as ourselves, and often have already figured out how to navigate the world with their differences. She often has to field strangers asking if she needs help doing normal, everyday activities, like putting groceries in her cart, zipping up her coat, or opening doors. 

Meg wants others to know people with differences may struggle navigating certain aspects of life, but that they have a sense of pride to do it themselves, just like we do. Questioning “What should I do?” suggests we have to do something at all. Meg says this isn’t the best way to go about it. Sometimes the notion we have to do something, is to soothe our own feelings of discomfort or awkwardness about someone’s difference. 

The best way to interact with someone who has a difference is to first treat them as you would any person. Next, follow their lead. People with differences (or, all people for that matter) are living in their own version of normal, and so, they don't expect anyone to do anything. People living with differences aren’t constantly thinking about their differences—it’s not on their minds. 

Meg offers this advice for helping someone with a difference: observe first. It might seem a little creepy, but often after a moment, the person struggling will often figure it out. Take a breath before you are, what Meg labels a “Mighty Mouse” and say ask yourself, "Let me see if that person actually needs it." Usually, a person is ready for help when they start looking around for help. 

We can speak with our teens about this exact situation, and offer them Meg’s simple guidance for helping people with differences. 

The Pitfalls of Rules on How to Treat People

At the same time, Meg encourages parents not to make ordinances about how to treat people with differences.  When parents give their teens orders about how to treat others with differences, it takes away their inherent drive to be kind to others. Instead of a “could,” being kind becomes a “should,” and teens may resent being kind because it is not out of their own volition. 

And people on the receiving end of obligatory kindness don’t want to be resented. 

As an example of what she means, Meg shares a story about her son who was feeling down after his soccer teammates didn’t slap his hand after a game. He told his mom he believed the cause was how his hand looked. “They didn’t want to touch me,” he lamented. As heartbreaking as it was, Meg helped her son to see it in a different way. There could be many reasons why the other kids hesitated to slap his hand. Maybe they thought it would hurt him, or they didn’t want to draw attention to it, or they were just surprised. She suggested he make a game of it, and see how many slaps he got after the second game. 

Sure enough, her son exchanged some hand slaps with about half of his teammates after the next game, and varying numbers the rest of the season. 

If Meg had complained to the coach and insisted everyone always slap her son’s hand, she would have put her son in a position to receive resentment rather than genuine kindness. Similarly, if a parent makes a rule that their teen must always concede to a person with differences' demands, the teen may grow to have less empathy for people with differences as an adult. 

In the Episode…

My conversation with Meg gave me so much to think about in how society views people with differences and how parents can raise inclusive teens who see the person before the difference. Meg and cover a lot of ground including:
  • the importance of showing our non-different kids just as much love and attention
  • how people with differences can embrace being an everyday hero
  • raising kids with differences, both visible and invisible
  • mitigating media influence on how we think about differences
I hope you enjoy listening to my discussion with Meg as much as I enjoyed speaking with her! Check the links in Meg’s bio for where to follow her and her work!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Meg Zucker
Meg Zucker
Don't Hide It, Flaunt It Founder and President
Ep 237: Visible and Invisible Differences
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