Habits of Mind
Posted Nov 9, 2018 by Jacquie Robison
Northern California native Nick Farris is an articulate and bright student at Cal State East Bay. He loves spending time with friends and staying active -- hiking and working out are particular favorites. He's studying kinesiology with plans to become a physical therapist. Nick also has Cerebral Palsy.
As an adult who has navigated stares and stereotypes since he was a child— he's attuned to the social & emotional impact it had on him — and recognized it might be helpful to share his experiences with others. Nick recently addressed a packed room at CCS (California Children's Services) in Fremont and discussed self-esteem, personal goals, bullying and more. WAWOS had the opportunity to chat with Nick who generously shared some of the thoughts from his talk.
Q: What drove your decision to give this talk?
A: Initially, I was meeting with Glankler Medical Therapy Unit about my interest in a career in physical therapy and to get their thoughts on specific areas of focus while I'm in college.
The conversation turned to my early school experiences and whether I had been bullied. I was curious as to what prompted the question. Turns out, the therapists had recently participated in a workshop that explored kids being bullied, but the team felt that applying the knowledge still felt disconnected. I think this is a common challenge -- the theory of what to do if you're being bullied or if you see that behavior doesn't always easily translate into a practical application of what you should do, or what others can do.
We threw around the idea of someone coming in to talk and they asked me point-blank if I would like to try. I took some time to think about it, and I guess my decision to step forward was based in part on hearing that no one had graduated from Glankler Elementary and had returned to support them in this way.
As I reflected on my experiences as a younger person, I felt like this was an opportunity to give back to the team that helped me for so many years.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self about reacting to people's comments/questions about your physical difference?
A: Almost everyday, I get asked one or all of these questions: "Are you OK?"
"Do you need help?"
"Can I get that for you?"
For so many years growing up, it was incredibly maddening to me. I could do just about anything, but because I looked a little different to people, I felt they would approach me as if I weren't capable. And sometimes, I would react in a negative way. These days, I am able to respond less aggressively to these questions.
I would tell my younger self that most people mean well. No one is out to get you or truly wants to be an antagonist. They wish to be helpful, but may just not know how to go about it.
Q: What tools did you develop and find most helpful to respond to people who stare or comment?
A: I'm not sure what tools I have for these other than having a positive mindset. I can't stop people from staring or commenting, no matter how annoying it can get. I guess the goal for both would be to understand people as a whole. We're curious but cautious when faced with something we aren't used to.
Respond positively to either and make it a habit.
Meet a stare with a smile and move on. If someone comments, it's usually not malicious, and you can educate them if appropriate. If it's a negative comment -- I say ignore them if possible, remind yourself who you are and move on.
Q: There are resources out there for parents of children with differences; what kind of gaps do you see in what's available today?
A: I know these exist, but more online groups with moderators and experts in language and behavior would be beneficial. Many parents can't relate to their child's struggles and become lost. The easier it is for parents to be proactive and informed, the better.
I'd also like to see more local classes kids and parents that include talks about differences -- every kind of difference. We need tools that help all families raise kids who understand that inclusion matters.
Q: What is something classmates can do to support a friend with a physical difference?
A: What I cherished the most from a lot of my friends in school was that they never once brought up any of my physical differences.
They waited for me to ask for help if I needed it. They made zero assumptions of my capabilities unless genuinely curious. They always commented on or criticized things I could control. They stood up for me when I couldn't, then helped me back up.
They made everything feel normal.
Q: What do you see as the biggest barrier to inclusion and understanding of differences?
A: I have a plethora of responses for this question: culture, personal philosophy, fear, competitive nature, social
environment, social status, etc.
I've been left out or treated differently for all these reasons at a multitude of events throughout my childhood. Most of which are physical activities. I've also been treated with respect and been given a shot. It greatly depends on the person.
As I grew older, I was included more often. In college especially, others seemed to be more informed and open. Practicing positive habits of mind is a great place to start for anyone.
The best answer I have overall is for people to drop the prejudice and be ready to learn. And be ready to teach when needed.
This includes teaching children.
That especially goes for the person who wishes to be part of something.
Know your weaknesses and strengths. If you don't know what that is, go figure it out. Figure out what you can do to strengthen
what you believe to be your shortcomings.
People tend to respond better to those who are confident regardless of success or failure.
_ _ _ _ _ _
A huge thank you to Nick for sharing some of his journey. As a world community, we should all remind ourselves of the importance of listening with empathy, learning through better understanding, growing through observation of others and building the future we want for ourselves and for our children.
The future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.