teen girl looking down


I See Your Eye-Rolling And It’s Time To Stop

Feb 1, 2021

The last time it happened we were at the apple orchard. My daughter, a teen with a disability called FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), hopped on the train trolley and sat on the opposite side of the train away from me. She was in a prickly, anxious mood and clearly didn’t want to be near me.

That’s all fine and good, but COVID protocols had been mentioned verbally, once, by the train conductor. And he said each family should sit together. The train car was open on the way back and she sat across from me instead. Part of her brain-based disability is memory impairment, and another part is processing speed. She might hear something one minute and literally have forgotten it within the next 15 minutes, or she could still be thinking about what she heard three to four minutes after that.

Sometimes I like to say my daughter needs a translator. It’s the nature of her disability. The older she gets, the less she wants me around and that is part of the process of growing up. Anyway, for whatever reason, that day I missed her cue and forgot to translate. My daughter’s disability is mostly invisible, which comes with some challenges when interacting in the community.

Learn what it's like for Paula's youngest adopted daughter to have FASD and how they parent through it daily here.

People see her not do what they just said to do, and oftentimes, they react with hostility and rudeness. Frequently, her behaviour is not intentional.

"There are no visual triggers that would show you she has a disability of any sort."

But people don’t know that, because her disability is mostly invisible. There are no visual triggers that would show you she has a disability of any sort. Someone sees her sit and assumes she’s being defiant. They make a snappy comment in a louder tone, just as the conductor and a second employee both did that day.

In a split second, I caught her looking slightly embarrassed, eyes turned down to the ground. She moved back over to sit beside me as the train conductor and another employee both turned and rolled their eyes. I know this look too well. It’s a look that tells me you think she did it on purpose. Sometimes there’s a tiny snort or a dismissive grunt. I have seen and heard it so many other times. The one that says: just another rude defiant teenager or just another rude kid.

'I’ve seen the eye-roll all over town'

I am not disagreeing that sometimes teenagers are defiant and prickly, and they want nothing to do with anyone over the age of 30. 

But not all disabilities are immediately apparent. My hope is that more people will try to think first before reacting to a perceived slight from a teenager or a child.

"How much nicer would the world be if everyone approached with the mindset that we are all different and we all need supports and kindness to succeed and thrive?"

For a time, I used to say this to some of the adults in my daughter’s world: "Everyone knows someone who has had dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Invisible neurological conditions can sometimes be or look like that. Now think about how you’d want a relative with dementia to be treated in a retirement home, or a care facility. In all likelihood, you hope they are treated with respect and dignity."

That’s what I want for our youth. There are a million sensory triggers that might be building up to a meltdown in someone with FASD, autism, anxiety, dementia, pervasive developmental disorder or sensory processing disorder. Being able to go out in the community is often a challenge. It is an anxiety provoking experience, and it shouldn’t be made worse by people who are ableist and even biased towards teenagers.

My youngest teen has many talents and strengths, but a lot of people don’t take the time to see them. I’ve seen the eye-roll all over town. How much nicer would the world be if everyone approached with the mindset that we are all different and we all need supports and kindness to succeed and thrive?

Paula understands the power of self-advocacy, especially when a child has a diagnosis. Read about how she's raising a health care self-advocate here.

The first time I remember witnessing the eye-roll, we were out in a second-hand clothing store. My youngest was in a stroller and my oldest, who would have been maybe five, was walking nearby within arm’s reach. The lights, or the heat, triggered a meltdown and my littlest started screaming and hammering her head off of the side of the stroller.

"When people disrespect her, they are showing how uneducated they are about neurodiversity and invisible disabilities."

Before we turned to leave, another shopper walked by "tsk, tsk"-ing audibly and she muttered something to me about how awful my child was being. Her words. We didn’t even have a diagnosis yet, but we had been making the rounds looking for answers as to what was triggering sensory meltdowns and a few other things we’d noticed. Her reaction and comments did nothing to help. In fact, they just made me feel even more alienated as a parent who was struggling with a child who had special needs.

Over the course of 16 years, we’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of judgemental commentary, eye-rolling or rude knee-jerk reaction more times than I can count.

Sometimes she sees it and sometimes she doesn’t. I suppose the times she doesn’t witness it are a blessing. But I have eyes and so do other people. When people disrespect her, they are showing how uneducated they are about neurodiversity and invisible disabilities.

The way I see it, when you know better, you can do better. I share my story so that next time, someone may pause before reacting and give themselves a moment to consider that there could be something more going on. And instead of an eye-roll, I may catch a smile instead.

Article Author Paula Schuck
Paula Schuck

Read more from Paula here.

My name is Paula Schuck and I have been writing professionally for over 20 years. I am a mother of two daughters, and I am a fierce advocate for several health issues. I am a yoga nut, skier and content coordinator for two London, Ontario, trade magazines. I have been published online and in traditional magazines and newspapers including: Today’s Parent, The Globe and Mail, Kitchener Record, London Free Press, trivago.ca, Ontario Parks blog and Food, Wine and Travel magazine.

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