Sunday, April 24, 2011

How other kids treat kids with special needs: It starts with the parents

Something amazing has been happening on our block this spring. Max is playing with other kids. I mean, really playing and hanging out with them. And they are doing it right back. There are bike races and swinging and running around and giggling. (The purple bike lasted for one day, in case you're wondering; Mushball Dave got it at Max's request, but it was too much bike for Max to handle.)

Life around here wasn't always this way. I can still picture the look of fear on one little girl's face when Max would get too close to her. Another kid once muttered, "I don't want to play with him. He's dumb." But these days, those kids and the other ones in our 'hood accept Max for who he is. This is partly because they're used to him, and partly because they've gotten to know the bright, cheerful, fun-loving kid behind the disabilities. I have their parents to thank as well; I'm lucky to be surrounded by down-to-earth, open-minded moms and dads who do not think that kids with special needs have cooties—and who have taught their kids the same.

Several parents have mentioned that their kids sometimes talk about Max. Like the mom who told me that her child said something about Max taking a longer time to learn how to ride a bike. She responded that even if it takes Max longer to do things, he still achieves them, and that people do things on their own timeline. Love her.

Warm welcomes and inclusion are not the typical responses in situations where kids don't know Max, like on vacation. Max doesn't notice the stares and occasional snickers, but I do, and they hurt. What happened to him at that gym a couple of months ago still haunts me.

Kids who don't know Max may only see a kid who is not able to talk like they do, who walks and runs a little differently, who occasionally drools. They may have trouble accepting differences and getting that Max is like them in many ways. Sometimes, on vacation or at a playground, I'll intervene to get kids interacting with Max. It's more rare that other parents there make that effort.

Kids will be kids. I can try my best to forge connections, but I believe it's up to their parents to teach acceptance and respect and help children understand that kids with special needs are still kids.

What say you? How do the kids in your neighborhood treat your child?


  1. The kids in our neighbourhood will ask Avery why she can't walk. They're very direct and inquisitive. Only once have I heard it asked in a way that made my heart hurt, but she has handled it like a champ.
    I re-read the other post you linked to. Have you ever read a book called "In Jesse's shoes" by Beverly Lewis? We got it for Avery a couple of months ago, and I think it would be great for all kids to read.

  2. Love the bike photo by the way (you know I would).. sorry that it didn't work out for Max. How true that it is often up to the parents.. they can set the tone for the kids. This past weekend we spontaneously met some friends and their kids at a movie theater. When the boys walked out after the movie, with our little guy (6 1/2 years old) trailing behind the older boys with his slow walk, and gleefully pretending to play a horn in time with the music playing during the credits, I was just happy he was happy and comfortable enough to be himself around these kids. And they had no problem with his slow walk, etc.

  3. We are lucky to have a couple friends for Ben who don't even notice he's different right now. Most kids we don't know won't play with him, and when he tries to 'play' with them they just run away or look at him funny. I hate the stares and the looks- from kids and parents. It breaks my heart, for Ben. Even though he doesn't know now I worry so much about (if) the day comes when he notices, or gets sad that they won't let him join in. I hate it. I wish so much we could just hide so I can protect him from the world.

  4. It sounds like Max is lucky to live in this era of bullying awareness and mainstreaming of all children. It wasn't like that for me growing up. Yet, no matter what you do idiots are allowed to procreate too. So, there will always be a few obnoxious kids in every crowd. It sounds like you're doing all that you can, Ellen. You're an amazing parent!

  5. Sarah Kate has CP but has never really had a problem with making friends - her difficulties are "limited" to walking, running, hopping, etc. - and Nathan, who has Down syndrome, is still young enough that we haven't crossed that bridge yet. However, another couple in the neighborhood had a baby last year, shortly after Nathan was born, and the dad voiced to me that his son and Nathan will "be the best of friends". I have no doubt that can happen, based on the fact that his dad said it, and was sincere about it.

  6. The community we live in (a small town) has been very accepting of Charlie, but I find that in my mind I am completely selective about the people that we hang out with. Charlie lovers only.

    As far as the rest of the world goes, I'm incredibly protective and Charlie has almost zero interest in other children, so for now, we are just fine. Do not look forward to the future where he might be more openly snubbed.

  7. I think housing special needs units and regular ed in the same building can also do a lot to build bridges.

    We have life skills housed in our school. Their kids are just as part of the community as mainstream and regular ed kids.

    Last year a new student in my class saw an autistic child wearing headphones in the cafeteria. He blurted out look at the freak and started laughing looking at his new classmates expecting them to join in.

    Instead he look at 2 4th grade and 2 3rd grade classes all with face of stone. A 4th grade class leader stepped up and explained that the boy was austisic and that the regular noise of the cafeteria was like a drill going off in the boy's head. Also here we don't make fun of people - you want friends you will stop.

    The boy continued to be a problem. He had his own issues. He had called the cops for help because his mother and BF were stoned, there was no food in the house and he and his sisters were getting sick from hunger.

    He never picked on a disabled student again - that is a line you don't cross at our school.

  8. I feel I am lucky, my 4 yr is a social butterfly & has many friends. As a result, my 2 yr. old has many friends. My neighbor took my boys to one little league game where my 2 yr old was passed from lap to lap & now everyone in our somewhat small town knows & loves him. When I go places where the kids are they are truly disappointed when they see that the 2 yr. old is not with me. I often wonder years from now, if my son w/ cp will be the "buddy" or "mascot" of the other kids. I have been amazed at how open & loving the kids are towards him.

  9. My daughter (3.5, mild CP) is in a mainstream classroom for her whole preschool day, and her peers so far treat her like just one of the gang. I worry about what will happen when she gets older, but for now kids seem interested in her walker and don't do much worse than stare. At a birthday party over the weekend, a little girl we've only met one other time marched up to my daughter and offered to play ponies with her and gave her one of the small horses she was holding. My kid was kind of confused but it made me SO HAPPY to see that happen.

  10. You know Ellen, I was really concerned about this when Molly was very young, but I was pleasantly surprised to find how well Molly was accepted by other kids. They may ask very direct questions, but almost always they are asked out of all sincerity and childhood innocence. My first encounter with this kind of acceptance was when Molly was still in daycare full-time. I came to pick her up one day and the staff were in tears when they told me how one of the "normal kids" had won the magic wand for behaviour that day, and as such got to make a wish. Apparently, she used her one wish to walk over to Molly, tap her on the head with the magic wand and say "I wish that Molly could walk". When Molly started school, she was in a special class in a "normal" school. As the teacher was giving me the initial tour, she mentioned that there were kids from the school who volunteered on their lunch hour to come in and help out with the kids in the special class. I was surprised a little b/c this was only a K-6 school and as such, "extra credits" couldn't be the impetus behind this. When I voiced as much to the teacher, she stopped, looked me directly in the eyes and said "We have a waiting list". I think things have changed a lot since I was a kid and didn't have a lot of exposure to kids like Max and Molly. Kids are on the whole much more accepting (unless they have parents who particular encourage behaviour in the other way).

  11. A few times when we've been out and about, Mango has gotten some mean looks - 'Ewww!' looks - from other kids. It breaks my heart and sometimes it makes me want for us to never leave our home again. Mango's eyes have a way of doing their own thing, and his head shape is different, and he doesn't speak - he's always in his chair so I can't see his face - but I can see theirs - and I thank God that he hasn't had to see them.

    I always wonder if this is how their mum's brought them up to be - and then I want to beat the crap out of them (the mums!) - cause, that's who's always there with the kids, and they should be teaching them better.

    Sometimes I want to say something - but I don't know what without sounding like I'm looking for a fight in the middle of Target. I just feel like my hands are tied.

    1. Beat the crap out of them? Whoa Jerri DONT you do know what happens to those FOOLS yes fools who beat up people for NO reason. THEY GET ARRESTED! And 2nd if Mango sees you being a bully, he WILL do it too. Come on Jerri you are NOT a little girl anymore!

      Whats more, who will look after your kid when you're in jail for being a idiot and beating someone up, eh? I bet you didn't think of that now did you! Beating up people gets you NOWHERE. Some role model you are! Only severely morally handicapped people beat up people. Shame on you Jerri, you should know better really! People like you do NOT deserve to have a child if that's the way you are gonna react to "offensive" things.

  12. I was at a friend's house the other day and her (extremely well-behaved) 5-year-old was playing with my twin babies. At one point she said "I like him better, Jaden is cooler." Jaden doesn't have CP and can roll and interact a little more. Her mom immediately and calmly said, "Come here. That's not a kind thing to say." The little girl got very upset and ashamed and left the room.
    I think it was just something that she said because Jaden was being more interactive and she didn't really mean anything by it. But I have to admit it made me sad to know that Malachi is already being perceived as different.

  13. I have sort of a opposite problem than you do, my daughter is normal, and i am trying to get her to see other children with disabilities are just children. now she is totally cool with it, she is nice and will play with any kid, but im finding more and more that when she goes to play with a disabled child the parents of said child will physically move their kid away from my girl. they are ostracizing their own kids. no explanation to me, no thought for my daughter suddenly not being allowed to play with a kid and making her afraid to approach other kids. any clue why they would do that? it seems counter productive to me.

  14. There are two kids with special needs in my neighbourhood, one teenaged boy with really severe cerebral palsy (very mentally handicapped, all but one hand more or less immobilized) and a younger boy with Down's Syndrome. Both are really friendly kids, and they are quite well-known and liked in the neighbourhood. NOBODY says anything against them, and if anyone tries, they pretty much get shunned. I suspect that the reason they are so well-known is because their mothers insist that they stay outdoors, in the sun, getting exercise, as much as possible. As a result, everyone sees them practically every day and gets to know them. Keeping up social bonds is so important, and it can be as simple as letting kids sit there and watch passersby. The moms were also not shy about pushing their kids towards interaction with neighbours, suggesting that they ask the lady if they could pat the dog and so on. I'm glad those kids had such attentive moms, because I think they were all the better for it :)

  15. Josephine, I have not read that book; thanks for the recommendation, I will look for it.

    Email Marcy, "Idiots are allowed to procreate" totally made me laugh. Sometimes, I need that reminder. Not all parents are capable of teaching their kids about kids with special needs, or willing to.

    The stories here were totally heartening. Rachael, I agree, getting kids out there is important. Julie, "I wish that Molly could talk" is one of the best things I've ever read on this blog.

    I agree that people are generally more accepting these days, but still, those stares! Jerri, yes, the looks hurt, and I'm similarly glad Max doesn't notice. I've been known to say things like, depending on my mood, "Staring like that is kind of rude" or "I assume you're staring at my son like that because he's really cute, right?"

    Shasta, the comments from young kids can hurt the most, because they are unfiltered. I used to be more sensitive to them because when Max was young, like your kids are, as I was sensitive to everything about him back then. But yes, it was just a passing comment from this little girl. It was good that her mom said something. Maybe it will open up a discussion for you and this kid to talk about Malachi's cp. These times, as hard as they are on the heart, can also be teaching moments.

    Hannah, without knowing your daughter, it's hard to answer... Sometimes, kids with special needs have sensitivity to noises or touch, so if your daughter is overexcited or touching the kids, it might disturb them, making their moms go all Mama Bear. But again, I can't really say! I've never seen that happen.

  16. Truth? Not so good. That's OK, though because we're out of that neighborhood now and off in the country where it's a ways to the next house. Our houses are far enough apart where I am at now and we have my parents' huge yard and field, so the kids have a school pal or two over every so often and can run around the yard, and they do return visits to their (few) good friends every now and again too.

    I do think life is easier for any kid who can hold his own verbally and intellectually, like my youngest who knows what he wants and knows how to tell you so in no uncertain terms. My oldest is going to have a tougher slog of it, but all you can really do is protect 'em and prepare 'em to the best of your ability.

    How do I handle stares? I stare right back in their dull little faces, smile broadly, and say "What's YOUR name--you look so familiar, I think I know your MOTHER." That usually knocks that crap back without any drama....

  17. Our neighborhood is kind of kid poor. Each of my children have about 4 friends from their grade in our neighborhood. But when you remove the girls for my son or the boys for my daughters that leaves 1 or 2 kids to potentially play with. Factor in that as my kids get older they might find little in common with some of the kids and you have a lack of kids to play with situation going on. We do many playdates with kids outside the neighborhood.

    I wanted to let you know about a Netflix documentary I found. It's called "Up Syndrome." It was filmed by a guy who was next door neighbors with a guy with Down Syndrome. Both kids were the same age, but attended different schools. They grew up together. The filmmaker set out to record the life of his friend. It was a really well done film told in voiceovers by the filmmaker and in the words of the guy with Down Syndrome. He talked about his job bagging groceries, his girlfriend, his school, and his soon-to-be new nephew. His triumphs far outweighed his challenges. Yes, he couldn't read well or drive, but he was living a life where he was an active member of his family and community...and a well-loved one too.

    I just got Netflix a month ago. I'm devouring the documentaries available via streaming.

  18. you sould hang out with the neighborhoods kids and ditch those gyms kids

  19. Our 12 is so mentally disabled, never mind the autism and epilepsy, that she cannot go out to play with the other children. Very sad. It's different at school where all the kids have special needs.

  20. When I was a kid people accepted me as a person, it wasn't until Junior High that I realized that I was different. We used to play horsey where you have a rope around someone and "pull" them. I thought it was the best game ever!

  21. My girl's too young yet for play dates (oh jeez - actually I guess she's not. Almost 3!)... OK, she gets lots of time w/other kids at daycare & is still only doing "parallel play" so we haven't had to deal with this head on. Sometimes at the park I catch the older kids (mostly girls) staring at her & I'll admit my first reaction is to bristle. Her (older)cousins all adore her, but in that older girl/baby way. I worry about bullying in the abstract but I am MOST uncomfortable with that condescending "pet" friendliness. Surely those aren't the only two options?

  22. Wonderful news that he is being included in the neighborhood. That is such a wonderful gift. Thanks for sharing, it gives us all such hope.

  23. The kids in our neighborhood tease, taunt, and try to trip up our son. They are all ignorant and their parents are the guilty ones. They all know about our son's autism, but refuse to explain it to their kids. It hurts to see him treated like that because all he wants is to play.

  24. many years ago when my "typical" daughter had friends over, one girl asked "what's wrong with your brother?'. I was about to go into an explanation, when my daughter stated simply "that's the way god made him", and the little girl replied "oh" and then continued playing. It was then that I learned that too much explaining is not always best.

  25. i agree
    there is only 1 kid when i was younger who would not say ,"Why do you have that thing in your ear?,Can you hear me.You should clean it out. and other things Only recently I learned the 1st time he met me he said that girl has something in her ear. to his dad who responded everyone has some helper in their body,thats hers(we were 5) now i relize that is why he was so nice to me and that starting when we were 10 he had a crush on me.

  26. Like Marla, I send my daughter (1.5 with very mild CP) to a regular preschool- best thing I ever did. I havent had to deal with bullying because nobody tends to notice. I think that since Amelia is close enough to pass for "typical", children seem not to care or notice she has CP. It gives me hope for the future that adults wont care or realise either.


Thanks for sharing!

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