Monday, January 21, 2013

Special Needs Education

I loved this months "Parents" Magazine. It has a child on the front who has spina bifida. She is using her beautiful gold shiny walker and has the cutest little smile. Inside the magazine was a short article where they interviewed the mom. This is an excerpt from the article:

"Emily's mom, Elizabeth, told me at her [photo] shoot that one of the hardest things about being the parent of a child with a disability is when people stare from afar. Your child feels that stare. Elizabeth likes the approach little children take when they see Emily - they're curious, not judgmental, and they start a conversation." . . . "There's lots more we can learn about this (spina bifida) and other disabilities if, like kids, we just ask."

I try to tell people all the time that it is OK to ask. Some moms may be offended, but that will be very few. More mom's will be offended when you stare and don't say hi or ask questions. The worst is when a little kid will ask their parents something to the extent of, "Why does she rock back and forth?" or "Why is she hitting herself?" and then the parent responds with something like, "Just worry about your self." or "That's rude. We shouldn't be rude like that."

What are you teaching your child when you tell them to worry about themselves and not be curious about another child? You might as well say, "That child is different, so we need to not talk to them. We should just treat them like they are different." It's OK for a child to be curious. It's OK for them to ask questions and wonder why a little girl is doing something different than most kids. It's OK for them to ask why they are in a wheelchair. Embrace your child wanting to learn about other kids, it will help them in the long run. They will run into many kids that are different throughout their life. You should teach them while they are young that we are all the same on the inside.

I have talked to many people about how they need to ask questions about a child if they are curious. Educate yourself by learning about other kids and asking! Most people say that it's hard to get the courage to just straight up ask a question because they worry that a parent may get offended. Know that if they do, it's just them and the person they are. You did nothing wrong. 

It's also hard to know how to ask questions or word them. Starting off a conversation with, "What is wrong with your child?" would make anyone upset. It's all about how you word your question. You can say, "I know a little girl, Oaklynn, who also rocks like that. She does that because she is a sensory seeking child. Is your child sensory seeking?" You always want to ask a question in a way that sounds like you really care. If they respond with a simple, "yes" or "no" and don't elaborate  then they are the few that do not want to talk about their child. Most parents (like myself) will be thrilled that you want to learn more. 

Once Oaklynn was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, my sister and brother in law sat their kids down and taught them all about what was going to happen to Oaklynn. How she is going to be different and do things different, but she understands everything and has feelings just like any other kid her age. Their kids asked questions and learned all about Oaklynn. It was GREAT!

I also have another sister who is primary chorister in her ward at church. She put a little slide show together, on her ipad, of Oaklynn and taught the kids a song about being different while using pictures of Oaklynn. Once the kids knew the song, she recorded them singing it to Oaklynn and later showed her the video. She was all smiles!

I encourage everyone to take the time to teach your kids about children with special needs. You don't have to have a family member with special needs in order to teach them. Show them a picture of Oaklynn and teach them that there are some kids that can't talk/walk/move. That there are kids who can't control their body or may do things different. Once you teach them about it, they wont treat special needs kids like they are different. They will treat them like any other child, and that is what we need.
Please feel free to ask me questions . . . ANY QUESTIONS. I do not take offense to questions. Just be careful when you ask them. I have had many people ask what Oaklynn's life expectancy is. I am totally fine with that question (I would be curious too if I knew nothing about it) but please be careful of when you ask that question. I will not answer any questions like that if Oaklynn is with me. So also remember when you are asking someone questions about their child, that even though it may look like their child doesn't understand, they probably do. So be careful about what you ask in front of the child.

Please share this post with others so that they too may feel more comfortable with how to approach the mother of a special needs child. Let's educate more people!

(If you know of someone you have been wanting to approach to talk to them about their child, but don't know how . . . feel free to send me a message. I'll help you come up with an appropriate way to talk to them. I know that sometimes it's not that you don't want to talk to them, but more that you don't know how to start the conversation)


Anonymous said...

Wonderful point of view to share! Audra

Stephanie said...

Love this Whit, it's so true that we just don't know how to ask so this really helps!

Nancy brown said...

This was so good. A friend of mine asked me about this. I told her the same thing. I even said just go introduce your self to the mom and your kids can ask their name. If they can't talk, the mom will usually chime in with His name is. He can't talk. He has this. But he loves friends. Can you be his friend?

Do you mind if I copy your idea for my 1000 post? ( not your words.. though they are very profound.. but the idea is perfect!