Leaving Cuteness Behind

True cuteness has a short shelf life. Little kids, puppies and kittens overflow with its endearing qualities. Hearts swell and faces glow as we watch them figure things out. Cuteness naturally retreats over time. Substance and individuality assume prominence as individuals mature into their fullness of becoming.

This important transition isn’t consistently honoured for all citizens. The outdated, toxic perception of people with developmental disabilities as eternal children can still play out in societal attitudes. Loving families may be tempted to stay in a seemingly safe zone and prolong the cuteness factor for vulnerable members.

During simpler times of early childhood, families experience widespread societal caring and acceptance. That warm glow is hard to leave behind if the future doesn’t look as inviting. Hence, the insidious shift from true to fake cuteness beckons. Like artificial sugar, fake cuteness is not good for anyone’s well-being.

The cuteness distinction is easy to identify. If the person is an adult, then the cuteness years are in the past. Sure, there are countless situations where an adult’s behaviour warms my heart and makes me smile. But is my response rooted in patronization or respect? Whether the person has a disability or not, my smile reflects an appreciation of their capacity to uniquely express feelings, thought processes, problem solve, etc. It is never because I see the adult’s words or actions as cute.

Leaving cuteness behind is a time-honoured rite of passage. And it warrants no exceptions. Celebrating diversity and the emergence of individual capacity, substance and expression nurtures personal growth and relationships. Cultivating hopes and dreams, this path enriches us as individuals, citizens and a society. I can’t imagine expecting less for myself or a loved one. Can you?

Susan Dunnigan

August 2022