Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Helping kids with special needs fit in: I did not buy the purple Crocs


I stopped in my tracks in Target. "Whoa!" I said, though I was by myself. Right there in front of me, hanging from a display: a cluster of purple Crocs. Gloriously purple Crocs. Max nirvana (yep, he is still obsessed with purple).

I stooped down, looked for his size, dropped the pair in my cart, started to push it away.

I stopped again.

Bright purple crocs on an 8-year-old boy with special needs: Not so cool. Maybe other 8-year-olds could get away with them, I don't know. Max is plenty cute, and he'd look extra cute with them on. But cuteness does not win you boy friends when you are 8 years old. Cuteness alienates you from other children, especially when you have certain traits that already make you seem younger than you are.

I've been very conscientious lately about helping Max look more his age. We just got him a new haircut, some homeboy clothes for spring, and custom purple bandanas to help with the drool situation. I mean, the bandanas aren't inconspicuous but they sure beat the terrycloth bibs.

I just didn't think those purple crocs would do much for his image—perhaps it's time to call in the What Not To Wear people. Sure, in theory, Max could trek around in purple crocs only at home, but that would never happen. He would want to wear them 24/7. He'd want to sleep in them. No, if I'd bought him the purple crocs, they would have been on his feet from now until the first frost, and probably beyond. I could practically hear the wails and screeches that would result when I made him take off the crocs to leave the house.

I am not the least bit ashamed of Max. He amazes me every single day, minute, second. And as you know, I am all for purple paraphernalia. But I want to help him help himself, even if he isn't yet aware of the things that make him stand out from other kids.

I put the purple Crocs back on the hook. Stood there for another couple of minutes, gazing at them. I felt a twinge of regret—they would make Max really happy.

And then I walked away.

34 comments:

  1. Special needs or not, you want your kid to be happy, proud, and an individual all while fitting in. My son's favorite color was pink. When he was starting pre-school, we were looking in a catalog at rain boots. He insisted he wanted the pink ones. I told him that red is the same as dark pink, and it would match his raincoat. It broke my heart seeing the look of disappointment on his face, but I just couldn't buy my son pink rain boots.

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  2. I so understnd this... I've been trying to "add some hip" to my sons wardrobe. He too is a drooler and I found a very sweet lady on etsy who whipped up some "cool" fabrics backed with terry for my guys drool accessories We now have skateboards, camo, and flames... He's a hit:)

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  3. That must have been hard. And isn't it a shame that kids seem to want to grow up so fast? My son is only four, and yet I find myself thinking that some cute clothes in his size are too "babyish."

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  4. You're an awesome Mum thinking of Max that way. I might have caved in if it had been me. You see I have this thing for purple too.

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  5. Love it! I am terrible at knowing what is age appropriate (14=teenage!) so I take my son's twin sister along, she know what the boys are wearing... I refuse some of the trendy stuff though (no skinny jeans on my boy!) The other day I pestered the other customer's in the thrift store wanting to make sure a few questionable Ts weren't too girly or immature. The women's boxy Ts got mixed up with the men's. I did get the Micky/Pete T but that is because I couldn't leave it alone. I ran it by the guru and she approved but I'll have to purge that one by the time he's 20.

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  6. Way to go mom! I need to remember to touch base with the teachers at school to make sure I'm still dressing Luke OK. When I take him to get a haircut I always tell the gal to give him a cut like the other boys.

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  7. Can he wear them around the house as "slippers"?? Just thinking of how to meet the obsession in the middle...

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  8. Wow, that must have been tough. Good for you for helping Max to gain and sustain friendships. It's a sad commentary on the state of playground politics that we need to avoid such silly things to protect our kids from teasing and ridicule. I like Mo's suggestion to use them as slippers. Would that work?

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  9. Mo, it's a hopeless purple situation. If he had those Crocs, it would be a constant challenge to get them OFF his feet. No such concept as "slippers" to Max. They would be his perma-shoes. !!!

    We did have that pair of purple Converse sneakers, but they got too small on him.

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  10. Two roads diverge here! I guess I am a lone voice in the wilderness because I have the opposite POV from ...well, everyone, so far.

    I have a kid who wants to be a girl and loves all things pink and girly, and I let him do his own thing. Half his wardrobe is pink, and he's having fun with long hair this year. I've tried the distraction/other choices approach, I disappointed him (like The Girls noted) in the past, but he knows what he wants, and has known for years now. He's not going to "change." He doesn't LIKE "cool boy" clothes or haircuts. He is what he is. I'm not going to spend my old age being accused of being ashamed of my kid and not letting him be what he is. Life is too short, and it's his life, not mine. When kids in his class question his choices, he says "I LIKE it" and he says it with sufficient conviction that so far, anyway, they accept that.

    Here's my attitude--who am I (fat, old and uncool) to be the arbiter of what is "cool?" I know, in my heart of hearts, that my kids will NEVER be "cool" in school--it just will not happen. They won't be on the football team (though my youngest might want to be a cheerleader--that's a bridge to cross in time, I suppose), they won't be in the snarky tough kids group, they aren't smart enough to be nerds, and it's only a strong anti-bullying policy that will prevent them from getting the crap beaten out of them, because they are decidedly DIFFERENT (and that really IS "OK" with me).

    My interest, therefore, is ensuring they're safe in school, happy in their studies, and overjoyed at home. If the crocs didn't eff up his gait, I'd have gotten 'em if they had potential to provide that much pleasurable bang for the buck (my youngest HAS a pair of crocs...in pink!). But hey, that's me and MY personal reality (I never gave an itshay what others thought, anyway, and can't start now)--everyone walks their own path!

    I'll skulk off to the dissenter's corner now!

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  11. It is tough to help our kids socialize. Mine (blind, Asperger's) didn't wear jeans until he was a junior in high school. Now 19, he's finally ditching the track pants for jeans and khakis, a much more socially acceptable look.
    I had a tough time buying pants and shorts for him, wanting him to look "normal" but wanting his comfort as well.

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  12. Way to go Mom! There is another problem now though. You will never be able to take him to Target again...

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  13. My son, Robbie, is 32 years old with the developmental age of 3 to 4 years in most areas. As his M om, of course I want him to "blend in" as much as possible. For the past 31 years, he has worn sweatpants in the winter because of the convenience of the elasticized waist. He does go to the bathroom independently and he cannot zip/unzip zippers without assistance because of his left-sided hemiplegia. I was growing tired of the worn out, pill-covered sweatpants and I had an epiphany....why couldn't he wear blue jeans made for women with the elastic waist?? I bought a pair as a trial and he loved them! Now, he doesn't want to wear anything else and his closet is full of them. I buy new ones on sale and also find great deals at thrift shops and Goodwill stores.
    My point is this: I feel that Robbie looks more like his peers.
    I have always felt that the better Robbie looks, the more accepted he will be by the "normal" people (for lack of a better description).

    Like the rest of you were describing about your own children, he DOES have his favorite t-shirts that have Bear in the Big Blue House on them and Winnie the Pooh and he wears them at home, but not out in public. His day center tries to stress that he needs to be treated as an adult, but that doesn't always set well with me since mentally he is NOT an adult....he is an eternal 3 year old with the body of a grown man. And all of this seems perfectly normal to us...his family!

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  14. I agree with you...Olivia loves, loves, loves Sesame Street but I don't let her wear anything that's too babyish. It's hard though!

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  15. Bright purple Crocs on an 8 year old boy doesn't seem weird at all. Maybe it's just where I live? My typically developing 9 yo wears a lime green pair wherever he can. A (male) classmate goes with the orange everyday.

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  16. I meant to put my name on that -- I hate being "anonymous".

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  17. Ellen, I kinda' thought that would be the case! Gotta love a guy with determination!

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  18. Jen, in our neck of the woods, a kid his age in purple Crocs would not look cool.

    This all seems so shallow to say! I don't concern myself with whether or not Sabrina looks cool, but Max needs help fitting in.

    Georgia Girl, our school wants Max to only wear sweatpants because of the same reason, they are easier than other pants to pull up and down. We got him a few pairs that were a size too big, and they'd fall way down below his butt and he looked like the biggest homeboy--the way I see some teens and twentysomethings in NY dressing sometime, like their pants are about to drop to their ankles.

    Now, I guess that is a cool look. But not in our 'hood.

    Still working on figuring out clothes that work for Max. It's an issue, because of his dexterity.

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  19. Felicia -- my son shows NO preference which is why I try to make good choices.

    You have tried both paths and are doing what is best for you. WAY TO GO MOM!

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  20. Justin Bieber's colour is purple, you know, and that kid is the most idolised teenager on the planet...

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  21. Ellen, He's still only 8!! You need to run back to Target and get him a pair and yourself too! Who gives a rats! He will be soooo happy and that's what's worth it.

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  22. Justin Bieber is JUSTIN BIEBER! Purple Crocs would not up Max's cool factor around boys his age. Like I said, I am trying to help him fit in, not stand out. If you don't have a kid with special needs, and have not observed the way other kids stare and snicker at your child, you might not understand this.

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  23. Good on you for helping Max to fit more into "normal" it always saddens and angers me when I see young adults with learning disabilities dressed like grandparents, fortunatly this is much more rare now. These guys are living a much cooler life than me at the moment (I'm back with my parents for a while) http://www.the-specials.com/

    It's a shame about your neighbourhood, they need to liven up. I think purple crocs with a few boys jibbets would be really cool!

    I accidental helped turn my friend's son's yellow into an obsession. I asked him "Are you yellow Michael?" after he had been pointing out yellow flowers, buses and cars to me. If he wasn't then, he's definitely "Yeyow Mitew" now! His twin brother's favourite colour is pink.

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  24. @Felicia
    I applaud you for allowing your son to express his gender identity. I think too many parents are concerned with getting their kids to adhere to some social norm of who they "should" be, and you can really destroy someone's self-worth that way. That's a lot of the reason why the rates of suicide and drug use are so much higher for LGBT kids. By loving and supporting your son in being who he is, you are helping him be better able to stand up to those who don't understand.

    Ellen, I can't fault you for trying to be the best parent you can be--I applaud you for that. Personally, I'm in the camp of those who would have bought the Crocs, unless you thought Max would really be bothered by or hindered by other people's opinions of him because of them. If the only person bothered by other people's opinions of him is YOU, well... then maybe you were doing it more for yourself than him. That's OK too.

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  25. Wow, what a great post - thanks so much! The comments are also fascinating. My background: our eldest (now 13)has minor disabilities which make 'ordinary' clothes uncomfortable and also has a major 'no logo' obsession because he refuses to conform to what others expect of him. Therefore, we have been through a lot to try to help him to feel comfortable whilst not drawing unwanted attention from his peers. Here's another factor to consider: you also helped your son by realising that happiness doesn't depend on 'things'. Yes, he could have been happy with these crocs but he can also be happy without them. They were only a thing, and you are much more important to him than even the colour purple!

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  26. If it makes you feel better about the crocs: pediatricians ask NOT to buy them for children if it is something they might wear a significant amount of time each week. The feet of younger children are still growing, and they need the full support normal children footwear give them. Crocs may feel great on your soles, but they are not right for children's feet :(

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  27. Oh, and there are plenty of nice sneakers with a little bit of purple, aren't there? How about purple laces in normal shoes? You can die them yourselves if you can't find them.

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  28. Ellen - I found you via Gretchen's blog. I'm not a mom, but I wanted to say that I really admire what you did. You did it to make your son's life easier and to protect him from bullies.

    - megs283

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  29. I agree with you. And then I also agree with Felicia--whose words and philosophy I admire greatly and only wish I could get myself there. I came here from the Happiness Project just for a look. I will proceed to count my blessings, and admire people facing the big challenges of special needs kids--

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  30. I just went through something similar today, when I told my 12 year old son that his Barbie cannot leave the house anymore. He doesn't get that the kids tease him because he clutches Barbie everywhere he goes, he only knows that they don't like him. I want him to be who he is, but at the same time, need to help him learn how to work within society too. It's always a struggle.

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  31. I heard a son who grew up to be quite well-known talk at his mother's funeral. One point was that when he went off to college, he wanted to take his very old-fashioned comic book collection. She warned him that if he took them the first semester, he would be the "geeky" (not his words) person who brought comic books. After he made friends, he could bring them and it would be an endearing trait.
    I liked how she presented it as something ok in itself, but alerted him to complications and alternatives. Essentially helping him figure out how to manage the reality of the situation he was going into.
    This was a super high IQ boy attending private school and living in a working class neighborhood, so you can imagine they had managed several situations. And sometimes those situations had physically dangerous possibilities.

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  32. This issue, like so many in parenting -- let alone special needs parenting -- is one of balance. Where do we draw the lines when indulging our children isn't so clearly and completely supporting them? (That question comes up with a LOT of things, not just this one!) Is it easier to take a moral stand when it seems an issue of gender identity, than just a personality-woven color fixation? How can the indirect (and yet, potentially far too direct) ramifications of drawing increased negative attention, be weighed against Max's right to choose what earns it, his joy over what would end up earning it, his lack of care or even awareness of his own, that he would earn it....but how can we really judge that itself for him, for now or the future as his understanding develops but the people around him take more and more for granted? Really, there's two to two thousand directions you could argue any facet of any facet of this. The practicality of crocks -- color and style acceptability aside -- barely factors in, in the onslaught, until you're looking for something, anything, that is less subjective. (Although a lot of pediatricians do recommend against them, and a lot of schools don't even allow them.)

    What it comes down to, in the end, is that you had to make a choice, and you made what you felt was the right one, although the harder one. For that, I applaud you. Fact is, it was a very specific decision, based on your specific kid (with whom, at this point, there would be no wearing them only SOME of the time, etc.), etc., and not a preemptive judgement on what any of the other parents here have commented on feeling they have done / would do, for/with their own kids. Hell, it's not even a judgement on what YOU would do, with slightly different things. Max has his purple bandannas. He got his Thomas costume....or was it Lightning McQueen? I might be crossing similar posts from different people, in my under-caffeinated mind. You have not decided to strip away all things that do or could bring Max joy and the opportunity for self-expression, if they happen to be socially frowned upon. You walked away from one thing, after deciding it would add as much bad, if not more bad, than good to his life.

    (cont...)

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  33. (...cont)

    We're lucky with Ash, in that he has varied enough interests that it's easier to -- at least some of the time -- give each its outlet in the more "appropriate" venues, without feeling like we're keeping him from anything. We can suggest he talks about the Plants Vs. Zombies game he got to a new level of, at school with his friends, instead of the Sesame Street video he watched. He can wear Tigger pajamas, but the t-shirt from the zoo with the real tiger on it, during the day. Halloween? He's not going to be in a superhero costume like most of the other boys his age, but an easily-recognized literary character from a book he read and they won't be able to for several more grade levels (The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz), isn't the simplest thing for 7 year olds to find scorn-worthy, either. He's never going to be wearing sports jerseys either, but dragon shirts are, while somewhat uncommon, generally considered an acceptable eccentricity. His favorite color happens to be blue, so no one blinks when that's obvious in 90% of his wardrobe.

    We're also lucky in that we've been able to "fake it" a lot with his clothes, when it comes to his motor issues. Since he's in second grade now, it was time to lose the velcro, but I rigged regular sneakers with homemade elastic shoelaces that look like the real thing, and he can slip his shoes on and off, but they stay firmly in place when on. He has issues with zippers, snaps, and tight buttons, but if I can get the fit right with loose-fitting jeans with adjustable elastic waistbands, I can get them to (mostly) stay on his tiny waist, while he can still pull them on and off over his hips, without having to undo or redo anything.

    Tangentially, have you tried SoftClothing for Max? They make fake jeans and fake chino-style pants, last I checked, that pull on and off like sweats, but look less like them.

    I've done reviews for the company three times, including their "jeans"...
    http://unhandicapping.com/softclothing-review-and-summer-giveaway/

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Thanks for sharing!



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