With all of the things Gina is dealing with right now, I am more than happy to guest post on Special Happens so that she can focus on her family’s needs and not worry that her readers will feel neglected. However, I am a little self-conscious writing here since I don’t have a child with special needs (at least not until our school district recognizes drama queen as a reason for an IEP).
All kidding aside, I am not a special needs expert by any means, so rather than try to write about something I don’t know about, I thought I’d stick with what I do know.
I am an expert in….. Um, hmmm, let’s see…
Ok, let’s skip that idea. How about we go on to the things I don’t know that you do know. I have questions related to the special needs community and I hope you can help me (and other parents) with the answers:
There are a myriad of questions I could ask – many of which I am afraid may be offensive. I am already afraid of the reaction to even putting these out there – but I’m going to put everything on the table and hope you understand my intention is to understand, not to offend. I think these are relatively common questions and hope to spark a discussion – realizing that there is no one size fits all answer.
Is it OK for me to talk about my kids to parents of children with special needs?
I have been blessed with 3 very healthy, athletic, socially adept (ish) kids. I worry that talking about them and their successes is akin to bragging. I hesitate to talk about how academically successful my kids are, how many goals they scored, or how many friends they have. Does me talking about my kids feel like salt in a wound? Is it like saying that I got pregnant any time my husband even looked at me when I’m at an infertility conference?
How do I express sympathy?
“I’m so sorry.”
When I say “I’m sorry.” does it stop at I’m sorry for whatever it is at the moment – or does it expand into I’m sorry your child has to deal with this. Because let’s be honest, as parents if we could give our children every physical and intellectual advantage we probably would. We don’t want them to suffer through ostracism. We don’t want them to feel sick or watch their bodies deteriorate. We don’t want them to have to work 5 times harder than everyone else to accomplish the same things. We especially don’t want to watch our kids in the throes of a seizure, scared every day because their senses are over stimulated by the everyday things around them. But is “I’m sorry” patronizing? What should I say instead?
Is acknowledging someone is different good or bad?
If I hold the door open for a kid in a wheel chair – does it make them feel different than others – like I pity them? Or should I ignore them so they feel they blend in? Or does ignoring them feel like I can’t even stand to look at them?
We were at a school carnival the other day and there was a little person there – he’s in 4th grade at that school, but my kids go to a different school and hadn’t seen him before. My 7 year old was fascinated and kept staring at the boy. I told him to quit staring – yes he’s a little person – get over it. What am I teaching him? Will he learn to let his eyes skip over someone with physical characteristics that set them apart from others? Whether it’s a missing limb, a wheel chair, down’s syndrome, little person, whatever. My intention is to teach him not to embarrass the other person, but ultimately what he’s learning is to not look at them.
If no one looks at a child with special needs I can imagine they’d wonder why no one looks them in the eye. Wouldn’t that be nearly as damaging as how come everyone is staring at me?
My son would have loved to go up to the boy that was a little person and asked him all sorts of stuff – how tall are you? Are your parents tall or small? Can you ride a bike? Will you always be short? What grade are you in? And then they would probably have gone off to play somewhere and my son wouldn’t even notice the boy’s unique stature any more.
But how do we get that initial curiosity out of the way without offending? How do we meet someone that’s different and not be overly bubbly to mask our discomfort? How do we as adults and as parents teach our children that line of being respectful without causing shame or embarrassment?
I believe people’s intentions are good 95% of the time, so if they offend, it likely is due to ignorance like mine. Would you help me understand better?
Have you dealt with any of these questions? How did it feel to you? What would you like to see people do instead? Is there a question I didn’t ask that is your pet peeve?
Daria is a working mom of 3 in Colorado. She blogs about finding balance between work and home at Mom in Management and about saving money and building wealth on Saving to be Rich. You can also follow her on twitter ~ MominManagement.