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When Meeting Those With Facial Differences, “Choose Kind”

cleft lip-cleft palate-facial difference
cleft lip-cleft palate-facial difference
Nicholas Zollo

Nicholas Zollo was born with facial differences that shaped his upbringing and, as he describes, made him the person he is today. Here, he writes about his experiences living with cleft lip and palate, and what he hopes others can learn from his example.

I have cleft lip and cleft palate. I’m unsure whether it’s bilateral or unilateral as I was adopted from China and have no photos of me when I was born, or before the Chinese surgeons worked on my face.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that having a cleft lip and palate has been humbling and made me a more empathetic and sympathetic person overall. It’s also made me unique and stand out. I feel a lot of my peers with facial differences can argue that it’s helped them, harmed them or both, and I’d agree with the argument of standing out being both helpful and harmful.

I will say, however, that having a cleft has had major social setbacks, especially during the early childhood development phase when I was developing those critical social skills. Furthermore, as most people know, surgery usually, if not always, means one cannot do physical activity, something that I really disliked about recovery, and still do, as I loved and still love sports, as well as the social aspect that came with it.

Some questions I used to get are: “What happened to your face?”, “Were you in a fire?”, “Did you fall?”, “Did you cut your lip?” A lot of these questions feel familiar to say the least. Now, I get questions that are more along the line of “Is that a cleft?” which I embrace, as I love it when people can either relate to having a cleft or know what a cleft is.

I wish people would treat us like they do everyone else. The questions can be a bit much, and so are the bullying and harassing that come with not looking like everyone else. Just because we were born with something different externally doesn’t mean we are not the same as everyone internally. We’ve got feelings, likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams.

If nothing else can be taken away, remember these two words from R. J. Palacio’s “Wonder”: Choose Kind.

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