When my son was born at 35 weeks, my husband and I became members of a club we never thought we would join: Parents of a Premature Infant. As time went on, it became clear that we were going to be card carrying members of yet another club: Parents of a Child with Special Needs.
The older he gets, it becomes clearer to others that there is something “different” about our child. When he was younger and ignored strangers who spoke to him, it was acceptable and even charming. Now that he is nearly four, people become upset when he ignores their innocent questions. I’ve seen snickering and pointing because he is still in diapers. Children his age call him a baby because he can’t talk to them in the way they think he should.
In my four years of parenting PuddinPie, I’ve come up with a list of things I wish people would keep in mind when they interact with my child with special needs (or any child, for that matter!):
- Treat him with respect! — My son is a human being and, like all humans, is worthy of love and respect. Do not belittle or mock him.
- Don’t baby him — Please speak to my son the way you would any other person. He does not need to be spoken to in a “baby” voice. Please do not “dumb down” your language for him. If it needs to be rephrased, I will do it for you.
- Please do not give him special treatment — Sure, if someone is in a wheelchair, direct the person to the ramp or elevator, not the stairs! Give people what they need to help themselves, but do not ask your child to bend over backwards to accommodate mine. Expect a child with special needs to share toys, take turns, and do all the “normal” things that children do.
- Please do not try to force him to do something that is beyond his physical abilities — You are not his therapist or teacher. My child needs a variety of people in his life, including those who simply love him and don’t work with him. Please be the person who simply loves on him!
- Please do not pity him (or me!) — My son knows he is different, but he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. Do I wish my son could talk easily and clearly? Yes — but I also don’t know him any other way … and I love him just the way he is.
Like any child with special needs, life with PuddinPie presents unique challenges, joys and sorrows. We are so thankful he is in our life and for the people, strangers and friends alike, who know that treating him with the love and respect that should be given to all humans is the best way to treat everyone.