Written by Dawn Alsept
I never planned on being a special needs mom. I don’t think any of us do, it takes most of us completely by surprise. In fact, I remember thinking for many of my childbearing years that I felt so bad for moms who had a child with special needs. Poor moms. Well, life has a way of surprising you and now I am on the other side of that coin. Here is what I want you to know (and I am sure that there are many other moms who feel this way too).
Teach Your Children to be Friendly
There is nothing worse to a special needs mom than children and adults who look away and do not acknowledge you. Be friendly and smile, don’t avoid eye contact. Our children notice this, we notice this, and it hurts. Teach your children to smile at others and even wave hello. Even if our children cannot wave back, we notice and it makes our hearts smile.
It’s Okay to be Curious
Teach your children to ask questions, but help them word the questions politely. When your child whispers to you, “what’s wrong with that little girl/boy,” use this as a teaching moment. Don’t scold your child, but rather, tell them to ask about the child in question. They can phrase the question like this, “tell me about your little boy.” I would love it if instead of a mom shushing her child and walking faster, the parent took the lead and started with a compliment such as, “what a cute shirt, tell me about your little one.” This opens the door for conversation, the parent of the special needs child can then tell you as much, or as little, as they want to. Ask about a device you are unfamiliar with such as, “Can you tell my son how the braces help your child walk better?”
Watch Your Language
Parents of children with special needs typically dislike the term NORMAL. So, don’t refer to the child saying something along the lines of…”how is he/she different than NORMAL kids.” There really is no normal with children, there is typical but I think every child can, at times, be a bit abnormal if you ask me. We special needs parents also prefer person-first language. My child is not a Downs Child, he is a little boy with Down Syndrome. See what I mean?
Your Children Learn From You
Our children are like sponges, I am sure you know this from the last time your son/daughter spouted off something that you know you have uttered before without realizing they heard you. This means that when they observe you interacting, without fear, they will likely do the same. If you are at a public venue and see a parent with a child who has special needs, strike up a conversation with the parent or child. Your children, over time, will come to view this as normal behavior and realize that people who are different are not scary.
Remove the Fear
Sometimes when your child views behavior that may frighten them, say an adult or child with special needs who may yell or act out in a manner that your child is unfamiliar with, have a chat. Talk to your child and, as best you can, discuss what may cause the disability you are observing and follow that up with a statement to reassure your child. Sometimes children do not understand that what they are seeing is not something that they can “catch” like a cold, it is not contagious. Also talk with your child about how people communicate, not everyone is able to talk like they are but everyone has a way to communicate, some are just louder than others.
Ultimately, what I want you to know is that special needs moms have the same ups and downs as parents of typical kids. We like to be included and we feel isolated when no one reaches out to us. The only way to make our world a more inclusive and accepting place is to start by reaching out to one and other, and what better way to do that than to start with our own children.
Dawn is the homeschooling mom to 6 of God’s blessings and the wife to a husband she counts as her best friend. She and her husband enjoy life on a small family farm where they strive to grow their own food, raise their own livestock, and homestead to the best of a modern day family’s ability. Though she loved running a homesteading blog for years, at www.incidentalfarmgirl.com, she discovered a new passion with the birth of her 6th child who surprised the family with a Down Syndrome diagnosis at birth. Now she spends her free time writing, advocating, and sharing stories to bring awareness to Down Syndrome at www.cedarsstory.com.