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Constance Alexander: Six-year old has good advice for those who meet her little brother, ‘just say hi’

Malena Lindberg, six years old, is all smiles until someone gives her baby brother Max the stink eye. Max has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and is considered medically fragile. Unlike his twin brother, Major, Max relies on daily skilled intervention and special accommodation to make sure he is safe and comfortable.

According to Malena, some people don’t know how to react when they see a two-year-old who is differently-abled. “I’m sad when people stare at him,” she says, referring to the aforementioned stink eye.

In a video about Max narrated by Malena, she reports that some people act like Max should not be seen or heard when the family is out together.

“We feel that energy and it hurts,” she says.

Megan Scholl Lindberg — Max, Major, and Malena’s mom – tells me that adults can be surprisingly insensitive and even cruel. She mentions being at a restaurant and asking someone to move to the side because Max’s view was blocked. The person’s reply:  “You think he is watching?” 

Hard to imagine how anyone can be so uncaring.

Malena, however, is quick with a reminder: “Don’t feel sorry for him.” 

“I’m sad for what my brother has to go through,” she admits. “He does belong and he is fighting really hard to enjoy his childhood.”

Lately, Malena has been giving talks to other kids, from first grade on up, about the impact of Cerebral Palsy on Max. She wants them to understand, show compassion, and welcome diversity.

“CP affects how he swallows and breathes. It’s hard for him to move, and he eats through a feeding tube in his belly,” she explains.

Max cannot do many things other two-year-olds, including his twin brother, can do. “He doesn’t walk or talk yet,” Malena remarks, the “yet” an indication of her confidence in Max.

Thinking ahead, she understands that bullies are a potential threat to her little brother. “Sometimes kids can be mean,” she says, “but I’m hoping more and more kids choose to be kind.”

Her advice to all of us is short and sweet. Instead of staring, or looking away, or making some kind of thoughtless comment, Malena asks that you just say hi.

“It feels welcoming and safe. It feels good, just like when someone says hi to you. And since my brother tends to have hard days,” she declares, “your hi can be a good moment in his day.”

Readers are welcome to create a “Hi, Max” video and send it to maxtheeffect@gmail.com.

Megan Scholl Lindberg is a graduate of Murray State University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. The family lives in a suburb of Chicago. A recent Chicago Tribune story about an accessible playground enjoyed by Max and the Lindberg family is online at https://www.chicagotribune.com”>www.chicagotribune.com.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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