I got this in the mail today. It was a GREAT read. Please do take time to read as well…
What a special parent wishes typical parents would do when their child encounters a special needs child.
by Krissy Racho-Orobia (email@example.com)
by Krissy Racho-Orobia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
What do you do when you’re child asks “What’s wrong with her?” while pointing to an obviously disabled child well within earshot of everyone and the parent of the disabled child?
Most parents caught in this awkward situation immediately “shhh” their child, tell them not to be rude, not to bother the disabled child and pull them away. Parents of typical kids (yes that would be a politically correct term), who have no experience with special kids (another politically correct term), are often flustered in these situations when they are caught off guard. In their attempts to get away from the awkwardness of it all, they end up doing the worst thing they could do – pull away. They would have, in effect done the following:
- Let the special child feel more isolated and more ostracized from society. They may not express it, but it is hurtful. Very hurtful. They have enough pains already and th is a form of rejection.
- Hurt the parent of the special child as well. The mom may continue what she is doing and ignore you, but trust me, she heard you and your child. Quietly she is trying to counsel herself and trying to forgive you for your unintended rudeness. Special parents are good at hiding their pain to the point that “sainthood” is often dubbed on them.
- Deprive your child to learn compassion, understanding and appreciation of the different kinds of people God has created. Your child is not being rude, but just curious. Also, give your child more credit – you’d be surprised at how much they can understand.
- Pass up on your chance to grow in charity and kindness.
Understandably, the typical parent means well. She really doesn’t know how the special parent (yes, that is what we have termed parents of special kids) feels in the given scenario. Run away is the first instinct. Fortunately, there are ways a typical parent can turn it around.
While I do not speak in behalf of any group of special parents, I believe I share most of my sentiments with them. To begin with, the least you can do is smile at the special parent and deal with your own child’s questions later as you slowly try to walk away without “shhh-ing” your child. Smiling is easy, yet it takes away what a wonderful encounter it could have been.
So what do you do? Here is a possible step-by-step plan:
First, correct your child and say, “There is nothing wrong with her, she is just different.” You can also say, “differently-abled” or even “just sitting on a wheelchair.” But never say, “disabled,” “mentally challenged,” “retarded,” “sick” or “has a disease.” Never ever say that there is something wrong with the child because there certainly is nothing wrong with a special child. Now, calling her a “special child” is also acceptable, but that might give you a harder time explaining to your young child what ‘special child’ really means. You can use this when you explain it further to your child after you meet the special child.
Bring your child’s attention to what they may have in common. This can be the most difficult for an adult – to see beyond the wheelchair or beyond the social disability (of autism). You can say, “She probably likes ice cream like you.” Or, “You probably have the same favourite color, or listen to the same music, or both have older brothers, or like to go swimming.” – sheesh, I can think of a hundred things special and typical kids have in common.
Break the barrier of difference and encourage your child to say a simple “hi.”For the severely disabled you can prompt your child and say, “I’m sure she would like for you to say hi to her even if she won’t be able to say hi to you herself.” You can prepare your child not to expect the usual response. This is the ultimate example of giving something without expecting anything or any response in return.
Be honest. When your child follows it up with, “Why is she different” you have to be honest and say, “I don’t really know, we can ask her mommy.” Up until this time, the special mom has been wanting to share her special child’s story with you and your child. She has heard your whole conversation with your own child and will now rescue you from further questions you cannot answer or from potentially becoming unintentionally rude or hurtful to her and her special child.
Know the child before you know the disability. If the child were not a special needs child, what are among the first things you ask or do? You introduce yourself, ask her name and her age right? Do the same. Tell your child to ask the special parent what is her child’s name if the child won’t be able to answer. In a typical situation, this isn’t being rude but being friendly.
After knowing the child, ask away. Special parents love to talk about their kids just like typical parents like to brag about their kids. Special parents cannot say, “honor student yan!” Or even, “she can count 1-10, she’s not shy around others and sings so well, she can sit on her own.” Special parents may not even ever get to say these about their kids. So give this chance for special parents to briefly explain what their kids can and cannot do. You can say, “Could you help me? I hope it doesn’t seem rude to you. My child is just curious. May I know what your child’s condition is so I can better explain to my child later?”
Notice two things: you asked for help and let the special parent feel better knowing she is helping you and not the other way round. Second, you offered to listen to her. Ahhh yes, that is what special parents really need – someone to listen. Take note also the safest word is “condition.” You wouldn’t want to ask, “What’s your child sickness/case/problem/disability?” Or worse, “What is wrong with her?” Another term you can use is “What is her diagnosis or special needs?”
Let the special parent share with you and your child. Special parents can simplify medical terms and conditions for the understanding of even your toddler. If your child sees you talking to the parent, she won’t be shy to approach the special child. When you are engaged in a conversation, don’t worry if your child will say something embarrassing. “Mom, the kid drools, her eyes are duling cross-eyed, she looks weird, she is too hyper and does strange things.” If there is that awkward silence, do not pull away, do not call your child rude, do not tell your child not to say such things and do not ignore what your child says. Technically, your child is just being truthful in what she sees physically. There is no need to apologize for your child’s curiosity. This is her first encounter with a special child after all. When you apologize, you actually build a barrier again because you are showing your own embarrassment and giving the special parent a reason to be embarrassed or awkward too. Like what we’ve said earlier, you can instead change the focus on what they have in common. Seems difficult to do?
Let’s try this example: “She drools” Say, “Oh you notice that. I also notice that she has a really cool pair of shoes. Do you like her shoes?” “Mom, she acts weird, talks funny and doesn’t even look at me.” A good response would be, “I can see why you say that, but she’s not that different from you and me. She probably likes listening to stories and making friends…” If you have been talking to the special parent, you may not have to say anything to your child. You may hear the special parent say, “Yes, she drools and does have a hard time keeping her mouth closed but she opens it even wider when she eats ice cream. Do you like ice cream?” You would be surprised what special parents can tell your child. When you act comfortable around them, it makes things easier for everyone. Any slip-ups in terminologies are excusable, because by this time, the special parent should feel that you mean well especially if you have made eye contact and exchanged smiles.
Take it as an opportunity. Sometimes your child doesn’t even have to ask. When you catch your child staring at a special child, just break the barrier and encourage her to go say “hi.” When you see the child first before the disability, everything becomes clearer and more comfortable for everyone.
In the rare case that the special parent shows some sarcasm or resentful look, just continue to smile and try to be as polite as possible. Just like any other parent, she is probably having a bad day. Or she probably already got some rude stares from other typical parents and is just tired from all of it. At least you know you did your part and not added to their hurts.
The friendship you offer is no more and no less than the friendship she can give. You can walk away inspired by how well she carries herself and her child. Your own child will remember this encounter and become a more compassionate person. You would have given your child the precious gift of character building. You’ll definitely feel better than if you had “shhh” your child because that just confuses your child more. And the special parent would have gone home believing that their child can be seen beyond the disability. That the tiring trip to take their special child out of the house is well worth it because it will bring them beautiful encounters as well.
So the next time you see a special needs child, remember to smile, break the barrier, know the child before the disability. Seize this opportunity to grow in character.
Finally, may I add, walk away with a silent prayer of thanksgiving in your heart.Thank the Lord for this brief encounter that can only enrich you. Thank Him for your blessings. Ask the Lord to continue to bless you and the special parent to give you both the strength you need to nurture and care for the child He gave you – whether typical or special because either way they are all beautiful and perfect children of God.
- Feel free to pass this around. Share similar stories if you have any. Help me improve on this article if you have other ideas. We’re beyond creating awareness – because what use is awareness if there is no action. Let’s break barriers!
- Come back again for another post I’m working on: “What special parents wish typical parents know.” Suggest other topics. Ask questions and I’ll try to answer -email@example.com