By Mehgan Drake
Raising children is always worth it. But let’s face it–parenting is hard. Being a special needs parent takes that up a level. We are often tired, lonely, and battling things you could hardly fathom. I purposefully entered the world of special needs parenting five and a half years ago with the adoption of our son, Boden, who has Down Syndrome, low functioning autism, among other diagnoses. When I met him, I’ll admit I wasn’t just daunted, I was absolutely terrified. Flash forward to today, and everything I was scared of is just our normal now.
I’ve learned countless lessons over these years: patience, unconditional love, and my own personal sort-comings to name a few. However the thing that stands out the most to me is how lonely this road of special needs parenting actually is. We understand and accept that we are different and a minority. As a whole, people with developmental, physical, or neurological differences and those with physical limitations are not seen as much as typical people in every day society, leading to a lack of understanding and education in public settings, and this is what I want to address.
As such a parent let me just say–please do not teach your kids not to stare at people with differences. Teach them to say hello! By teaching your children to look away, you are essentially perpetuating a standard of unacceptable, and making a whole people group to live a life ignored. I get that seeing physical deformities and hearing strange, autistic noises can be unnerving and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The more you learn, the more comfortable you will be in these social situations. The old adage of people being afraid of what they don’t understand is totally true and applicable in this scenario.
Our children, however are more alike than different. Boden is capable of a full range of emotions and behaviors, encompassing everything from joy and teasing, to anger and mischief. It should be said here that you should not feel obligated to dismiss or condone behaviors that our children are exhibiting towards you. They are also able to have expectations. Giving grace is nice, but you do not have to tell us “It’s OK” if we correct or reprimand our child for doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing. For instance, my son will sit in anyone’s lap or pinch someone every once in a while. That’s not alright. It wouldn’t be ok for a typical child to do that. He knows better, and I will fuss at him for it.
Boden makes noises, he does not speak, but he does understand when we speak to him, and he loves to play in his own way. Many people with physical limitations are neurologically fully functional, and would love to be acknowledged. It is not only possible, but so much fun to interact and play with these special children. While appropriate boundaries are always a must, hand-shakes, high-fives, and conversation are always welcomed. You may not know correct terminology, or exactly what the politically correct thing to say is (special needs mamas, this is when you need to give grace), but I assure you, families with special children would love to answer appropriate questions (please keep in mind we are all humans, made in the image of God with dignity, and some things are personal), educate you on conditions, and even brag or tell funny stories about our kiddos. Feel free to say ” I noticed your beautiful family and wanted to say hello,” or, “You’re rocking it today, Mama,” or how about, “Is there anything I can help you with while I’m here?” I had an employee of my grocery store bring me forgotten turkey pepperonis one time while I was already in the check out, and it blessed my heart, and my tired feet were so relieved.
Introduce your child, and encourage them to say hi. As a conversation ensues, and you get to know these people, you get the chance to learn about individual personalities and diagnoses, and each time, things are becoming more normalized to you and your children.
Encourage a family walking this road. Learn more about a diagnosis a family at school or church is living with. Don’t miss a golden opportunity to get to know some amazing humans, and the chance for your kid to establish wonderful friendships.
Don’t look away. Don’t be afraid. Give a great big smile and “hello” to help foster understanding, acceptance, and friendship from which all walks of life and generations can benefit.
I have found that a wonderful FB Page to learn about differences is Special Books by Special Kids