Subconscious bias is more common than you think. Especially when it comes to children with diverse needs and parenting. Unfortunately, it can lead to labeling and stigma.
In this article, you’ll find How to recognize and address your subconscious bias.
What are some signs of subconscious bias?
Catching your subconscious bias isn’t easy. Why? It’s because you don’t consciously think or talk about it. Here are some signs that you may have experienced before when engaging with people with diverse needs and other parents:
- feeling uncomfortable
- regretting what you do or say afterwards
- acting or feeling judgemental
- distancing yourself from, or avoiding people with diverse needs
- convincing yourself that you aren’t biased
Next, I’ll share a story that eventually changed my life.
Life changing event
When my sons were in elementary school, they had a track meet where students and families from 4 or 5 different schools gathered at a stadium. I was there to cheer for our school, and socialize with other parents in the community.
Towards the end of the event, there was a 200M race. The sound of the starter pistol caught my attention. Many of us were probably looking at the fastest runners or our own children.
But I noticed a student half running and half walking well behind those kids. He was in fact still close to the start line. Although I couldn’t really see the student’s face, I knew it was a boy with diverse needs. Other people noticed him too, and soon nobody was watching the competition at the front of the race.
My first reaction was “It’s too long a distance for him. Why are they making him run?” Then some kind of miracle took my breath away.
A couple of kids and a teacher were walking with him. Their body language showed that they were encouraging him. Little by little, the number of children running and walking with him grew, and soon the boy was surrounded by hundreds of kids.
Whether they were from the same school or not, they became one group. It was like I was watching the Canadian hero Terry Fox leading the Marathon of Hope.
Not only did the children running with him cheer for him, but all the others in the stadium also stood and cheered. As you can imagine, many of us were in tears. The determination of this young boy pushing towards to the finish line, and the empathy of the other children touched many hearts.
It wasn’t the fastest or most popular kid who brought us together. It was the child with diverse needs. On that day, his action demonstrated that ‘Life is NOT all about winning’.
3 steps to address subconscious bias
Step 1 – Acknowledge
When you recognize any of the signs listed earlier, acknowledge your subconscious bias.
As an example, I realized my original reaction towards the student running a longer distance was my bias. I was judgemental.
Step 2 – Reflect
Once you acknowledge, take time to reflect on it. Why did I think or feel in a particular way? Where did it come from?
In my case, my perspective for people with diverse needs originated in my childhood. Many people with diverse needs were segregated back then, so my beliefs were formed by Japanese society.
Step 3 – Learn & Take action
When you reflect on something, you subconsciously become curious. So learn more about specific diverse needs, and take action! This is where “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” is valued. For example, painting with your feet or playing wheelchair basketball may give you some perspective.
What did I learn & how did I take action? After the life changing experience at the track meet, I eventually took a special needs educator course. Since then, I’ve been supporting children with diverse needs.
Like the inspiring student at the track meet, I’ve learned many valuable lessons from children.
One of the greatest teachers I had was a 4 yr old boy who helped me become a better person. Without his intending to, he helped me work on becoming less judgemental. Believe it or not, this was the hardest thing to master. As you can imagine, I’m still working on it.
I often wonder if we are the ones who need extra support to recognize what’s important in our life.
Let’s create a kind world for our children!