Md. mother's 'Smile, Don't Stare' campaign seeks to create inclu

Md. mother's 'Smile, Don't Stare' campaign seeks to create inclusion for disabled children

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ROCKVILLE, Md. -

There are three million disabled children in the United States. But one Maryland mother is trying to make her son's life easier -- one smile at a time.

Ryan is a young man with a traumatic brain injury. But how do people "see" him?

Ryan’s mother, Debbie Sahlin, says people stare. She has even been kicked out of a public park.

She was told, “Why would you take a child like that swimming anyway?”

Some families don't even want to go out in public.

“They go home crying -- the parents. I just can't live with that,” said Sahlin.

So she started the Lollipop Kids Foundation and a new campaign called “Smile, Don't Stare.”

Shannon Kennedy is one of the teenagers who has taken a pledge to smile, don't stare. Shannon's little sister, Molly, had a disability and died in 2013.

“People would stare and judge her,” said Kennedy. “I knew my sister more than they did. It hurt me more than it hurt her.”

While these teens are wishing for cars and college acceptance letters, others just want to be acknowledged.

“The little boy, he had a sign that said, 'I wish [kids] would ask my name.' I feel like that's something we take for granted,” said another teen named that made the pledge.

“These children are going to teach you more than anyone on the face of the Earth,” said Sahlin. “They fight. None of us know how to fight the way these kids do. Their patience, they don't the meanness that society has. They don't know evil. They don’t know lying. They don't know deceit. They're just so wonderful.”

If you are a parent, odds are you have experience it. You are out in public place and your child notices someone with a disability.

Your tendency might be to shush your child. But Sahlin said that sends a dangerous message about people with disabilities.

She said, “From then on out, that little child is thinking, 'Ew. They're over there. They're separated.’ That's where the isolation occurs.”

Sahlin said it is easier than you think. Smile, don't stare.

“When somebody walks by and just smiles at us and smiles at my son, it's just this feeling of acceptance,” she said.

“Big difference,” said Kennedy. “It makes them feel wanted. It makes them feel acknowledged, like they belong.”

Online:

http://www.lollipopkidsfoundation.org/smile-dont-stare/

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