Do others understand your child’s disability?

It’s so frustrating when others make comments that show a limited understanding of our children’s special needs. In the moment, these comments can bring out the mama and papa bear in each of us! But if we step back, take a deep breath, and plan for these comments, they can become “teachable” moments. The starting point is having a solid understanding of our child’s disability. Our website has links to national disability websites, which often are excellent sources of information.

At the beginning of each school year, if your child is in general education, give the teacher a one-page summary about your child. Include strengths and interests (see sample here). Work together with your child’s teacher.

If your child is new to a school where other students may not understand your child’s special needs, ask the teacher if someone could talk with the class and describe the disability. Who does this? It could be you, the teacher, or — in some situations — your child. Check out these suggestions.

For friends, neighbors or strangers who give us comments, advice or suggestions, you have to decide whether or not to respond.

Sometimes a simple factual explanation is all that is needed. Have you heard any of the following?

Comment: “Your kid can’t have ADHD! She focuses just fine on computer games.”

Response: “The disability isn’t a lack of paying attention; it is not regulating attention. Sometimes it is paying too much attention and other times not enough.”

Comment: “Your kid’s handwriting is a mess. Clearly he can do better; he is such a good artist.”
Response: “Did you know that artistic drawing skills come from a different part of the brain than handwriting?”

Comment:  “If he would try harder, he would do better.”

Response: “If he did better, he would try harder.”

Sometimes we’re tempted to say something clever and cutting in return. Probably these comments are best muttered to ourselves or to those close to us who understand our situation or who can find humor in a jaded response! Two parents of special needs children have written a book and developed a website for such humor.

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