And why the continued stigma in 2009?
“Special needs” definition per Merriam Webster is “the individual requirements (per education) of a person with a disadvantaged background or a mental, emotional, or physical disability, or a high risk of developing one.” Well goodness, that sounds like just about everyone I know in one way or another.
Take a moment and think for yourself! Do you know anyone with an anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar, disadvantaged background, auditory, visual, diabetes, obesity (metabolic), pituitary issues, scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, heart disease, cancer, ADD, ADHD, autism etc., etc., and then of course the obvious syndromes, mental delays. Are you feeling the same way I was. Well aren’t we ALL at some point “special needs”? The only difference is where on the continuum you fall.
If mental delays are ones sticking point, then know this. The average IQ is 100!! Do you know what population falls below 100??? 50%. That is a whole lot of America running on brain power that we consider to be lower tier. But look how fabulous our nation is. The belief that IQ denotes everything, overrated???
Why do we have these stigmas? At a quick glance, my opinion is that downward comparisons make us feel better, and that we are just weary of what we do not understand as a nation. What is a downward comparison? Well, let’s first discuss upward. These are the ones that wreak havoc on our self-esteem “she has a bigger house, smarter kids, better job, etc. Downward one’s make us feel better about ourselves. For example, he doesn’t make as much money, I am prettier, more intelligent, my kid’s are more athletic, etc. Get the point! If you are not feeling so good who is the ultimate downward comparison but a child that is inflicted earlier, rather than later, with a “special need”. This is mainly true for a child, parents/persons with low self-esteem. Note: this is often not something we could even admit to ourselves, but, “if it does not apply, let it fly.”
Now, that being said, I do not think this is the pervasive thinking among MOST individuals. Often many are just weary of the unknown. There is a mystery or aura around what we do not feel comfortable discussing or addressing. So, we create our own notions to fill in the blanks, fall back on old stereotypes, or just continue to have discomfort with the whole subject altogether. Who can blame anyone for this? Who knows what the correct thing to say to a person who has not had cancer, a death of a child, and YES a child with a “special need”, etc? NO ONE!! However, understanding the “Why’s” are crucial to rewiring the way we think about a subject. Now that we may have some understanding as to the “Why” let’s look at what you can do about it.
Top Ten Appropriate Things to Do or Say:
- Keep the contact. It may be uncomfortable for you but these families need more than ever your support. Ask them if necessary, what would you like from me right now? Or I am at a loss as to what to say, or do, but want to help.
- Compliment that child that is obvious to the eye a child with “special needs”. You goochy goo with the other children, right? Do the same with this child. You can tell them their hair is pretty or you like their outfit. We all have beauty if you look. Even if they do not visually understand. The mom will understand kindness!
- Try to refrain from using sentences as though you “do” understand. You cannot and that is OK!! Who could till you walked a mile in their moccasins.
- Compliment the parent on their strength in dealing with this. It is all in the wording. We know you probably could not or would not want to. That is why God gave them to us. We are good with this. Now give us the credit we deserve for our extra love, patience, empathy and strength. Imperative qualities to have once you learn about your child’s need and thereafter.
- If others ask about Cindy’s “news” do not fill them in. It is Cindy’s story and there is healing in letting her be the one to share rather than feeling like they are the new gossip in the town.
- Listening without comment is OK. There is a grieving process that takes place forever. You go in and out of it as your child misses different milestones or other expectations are dashed. We just need to release these feelings sometimes.
- Teach your children confidence in approaching a child that has a “need” by modeling to your children this behavior. Hi ______, Wow, I like those new shoes you have! Or wow, your mommy did your hair so pretty today! (bonus, double compliment!) You get the point!
- Teach that differences are just that. We are all different in this world. Language, color, weight, height, culture, and yes, sometimes physical malformations. But God loves us all the same and our insides are all beautiful. You would not stop loving Grandma because her legs did not work anymore.
- Changing our thinking from worldly superficiality to one of love, compassion, and empathy. Beauty within rules over beauty from without. One endures much longer!!
- Compassion, just because you child does not present with a need now, she may later IE. Juvenile diabetes, car accident, childhood cancer, etc. Alter your view now so you are not humbled when you have to alter it later. One day we all will have a “need”. The sooner we learn “no big deal” concerning “special needs” the quicker we will have acceptance for ourselves down the road.
** Feel free parents of special needs children to post some of your own!!