Being the parent of a child with special needs, I read a lot of blog posts on what it is like. Everyone has their own opinion, their own feelings, and their own unique situations. I can’t speak for anyone else. But I see lots of comments on how people need to stop being so sensitive, or they are tired of hearing how they should parent. (I do find it ironic when people complain about someone being too sensitive when clearly they are sensitive in being told how to act. But that’s beside the point.) And yet others are wanting to learn more.
So here it goes, another post on what it’s like to be the parent of a child with special needs. And this is just one perspective. My child doesn’t have health issues, or major mobility issues. Mainly, he’s cognitively impaired and has some gross motor and fine motor delays. I’m not going to tell you how to parent. I’m going to provide you answers to potential questions you may have. Also, please feel free to ask me about my life. A favorite quote of mine is “Questions don’t hurt; ignorance does.” (Yes, it is from the Facts of Life.)
Guess what? I don’t think of myself as much different than my friends with children who don’t have special needs. I really don’t. Yes, I have a few more activities in my schedule that make it hectic. But I know other people who have their neurotypical child enrolled in a host of activities and they run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Until my son was in preschool, I was taking him to physical therapy and Early Intervention twice a week. I didn’t complain. I did it. Sure there were crazy days. Days when it seems like it would’ve been better to stay in bed. Everybody has those. Every parent has those.
Am I offended when you ask me questions like, “did you know your child had Down syndrome before he was born?” or “how high functioning is he?” The answer: Of course not. You’re showing interest in our life, our situation. You’re wanting to learn more. It’s an opportunity for me to advocate and educate, not get offended. So don’t worry whether you’ve phrased the question correctly or used the right words. I’m thankful you’re wanting to learn more. I’m grateful for your open mind.
Do I dislike the use of the word retard when used as slander? Yes. It’s saying that those with a cognitive impairment are less human than those without. I also dislike the word gay being used in that manner. And I don’t like the words nigger, Wop, Spick, towel head, camel jockey, kike, etc. I don’t let my kids call people names. And if you use them around me, I’ll politely correct you.
Do I think you should praise your kid for playing with a child with a disability? I don’t care. You’re teaching your child tolerance and to not discriminate. You’re doing a good job. Keep it up. If you told your child to walk away and ignore the child based on cognitive level or physical disability, well, that’s your prerogative too. Not one I would agree with, and quite frankly, you’re teaching intolerance and you might want to reflect on that. But I can’t make you do it. I can simply ask you to put yourself in that person’s shoes.
Is it OK to ask me how he’s doing and what his teacher says about his development? Yes. Please do. Again, it shows you care. It’s an opportunity for me to share what I’ve learned.
Is it OK for you to tell me the accomplishments of your child, even if our children are the same age and yours is doing much more? Yes! I’m happy for you. I’m not comparing my child to yours. Yes, I may wish my child could do those things, but I have to stop and reflect on what all my child has done and is doing, and I get my perspective back. If we are friends, please share your highs and lows with me. Just like you would any parent. My feelings are exactly that. Mine. I decide how to feel. And I want to share in your happiness.
In other words, I’m a parent. Like you. We all have different challenges. Some challenges are bigger than others. I can’t speak for other people. Just me. But if you know me and have wondered these questions, please know that I’m happy you are on this journey with me. It’s not a journey I expected to take. But I can honestly say I feel blessed to be on it.
Let me share my blessing with you.