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One little boy’s tale of solitary anguish has culminated in a beautiful and potent message. This little boy, who believed he had no friends, will be shown thousands of pieces of evidence to the contrary on March 9th 2014. It will certainly be a poignant moment and one which will hopefully remain indelibly with Colin.
Personally I can, to some degree, relate to Colin’s experience. Having a disability, whether physical or psychological, differentiates you by its very nature. I am sometime asked how parents ought to react to a child’s disability. I can offer no better example than Colin’s mother. Her campaign reminds me of a poem by Emily Perl Kingsley that I read recently which exquisitely illustrates this point. It refers to the expectation parents have of a child, akin to planning a trip to Italy. However, ultimately the destination is Holland. It is a different country, with different customs and at times a different language, which differentiates you from others. Yet it remains a beautiful journey.
The campaign by Colin’s mother is an inspiring example of the fact that, as Kingsley wrote: “if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.” The fact that Colin has inspired such support and friendship is one of those “lovely things.” Virtual strangers have demonstrated great benevolence and compassion. It is certainly this humanity, this sentiment, which will be of the greatest importance to the little boy who will no longer feel companionless.
As someone who felt similarly socially ostracised at the same age, I found Colin’s experience intensely relatable. His mother’s aspiration to have a few people respond to such a campaign has evidently gone far beyond her own expectations. At the time of writing, Colin’s Facebook page “Happy Birthday Colin” has 2.9 million followers with contributions and involvement from all over the world. It has been suggested that when Colin opens some of the thousands of cards and gifts he has received, a world map should be used so that he can fully visualise and understand the impact and scope of people’s kindness toward a truly “wonderful” little boy. I hope that Colin will act as a symbol for children who feel similarly isolated.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of this social network campaign is the fact that it has increased awareness of the social isolation many children experience as a consequence of the negative attitudes which hinder them. Having been bullied myself, I believe it stems not from malice, but from ignorance. That experience was character building, a baptism of fire, into “mainstream” life. I would not change a single thing about it; it has built quite a character and moulded me, I hope, into a good person.
However, I had hoped, perhaps rather naïvely, that the next generation of disabled children would not have to be burnt by such a baptism. A recent survey by Mumsnet and Scope revealed that six in 10 parents of disabled children are of the opinion that their children cannot access activities which would improve their socialisation as a direct consequence of their disabilities. Furthermore, 40% of children with disabilities do not have the opportunity to socialise with children who are not disabled. It is difficult to see how the situation can be improved for those with disabilities when parents of disabled children still feel that there has been little disintegration of the very real, very significant, obstacles for children, which are both a product of societal attitudes as well as preconceptions.
Colin is a symbol, an example of a much wider problem which needs to be addressed. Colin’s story has allowed people to understand such issues on a human level. He is more than the statistic; he is a little boy who feels “friendless” and isolated; he is tangible evidence of loneliness; and one can only imagine his feelings upon having to eat his meals alone. However, this is an unambiguous reality for Colin. I want to wish Colin a Happy 11th Birthday – a truly wonderful little boy whose story transcends language and culture.