It happened before we really even became aware. I was surprised actually, because we are usually so good about stuff like that in our home. No name calling, no teasing, no shaming, no ostracizing. We’d all been through enough of that.
It started as an almost affectionate term. A term of endearment for our toddler girl whose behaviors were very much “weird.” Having sensory processing disorder, she often appears disconnected and “out of sync.” Too loud when everything around her is quiet. Her laugh is forced, as if she knows something is funny and requires laughing but it didn’t actually strike her humor. She doesn’t play per se; she often flutters from station to station in our house much like a butterfly flutters between flowers. We’d say “So-and-so, stop acting so weird” and call her “our little weirdo.”
I feel so ashamed to write it down in words. I could try to defend it to you by saying you’d have understood if you could have seen our loving faces while saying it to her, or hear our voices filled with affection for her. But I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t grow into more than that, or claim it wasn’t said to her in utter frustration sometimes. Or that it didn’t spread to other people, like when our older daughter began to use it as well. Or that it didn’t infiltrate our minds, and become a way of thinking about our innocent girl. Or that this word became shaming and isolating.
The absolute worst was when she began to identify herself as a “weirdo.” We’d heard it at home, but the alarms finally went off when she said it at daycare.
Her teacher pulled me aside when I came to pick her up. There was the familiar feeling of dread; what happened, what is it now? What did my child do today? Her face was serious and she spoke in hushed tones. She told me that our daughter referred to herself as a “weirdo.” She was nonchalant and matter-of-fact when she said it about herself. Did that concern me?
I was relieved that was “all it was,” but that was the turning point for me as her mother. The wake-up call that this had gotten way out of hand and was becoming a defining self-characteristic in our 3-year-
old’s mind. I couldn’t let her continue on thinking that way.
I got fierce about it. Removed “weird” and anything like it from my vocabulary. Led by example, and corrected others when necessary. I never addressed it directly with my daughter; I didn’t want to give it even more credibility by doing so.
The word has faded from her vocabulary and ours. Harmful words are no longer a part of our conversation or thoughts about her. Instead, we use words to appropriately describe how her actions are a part of her sensory processing issue.
Looking back, I know it was a part of us trying to cope. We were trying to understand why our precious little girl was so different, and we had no outlet for dealing with the parts of her we didn’t understand.
Believe me, this story has been hard to tell. But it has left a huge mark on me. I now have an awareness of the words we choose and how they can take on a life of their own. How they can mold our minds and distance us from the people we love the most in this world. How they can shape a person’s ideas about themselves, for good or for bad.