One of Dave's friends came to visit this weekend. He has a 6-year-old who doesn't know Max well. At first, he was wary of Max. He even cried when he first saw him. "I'm scared of him!" he said. But as the day went on, this other boy grew less timid. He started asking questions about Max, like "How does he get down the stairs?" They watched Finding Nemo together. Max showed him his speech app and told him about his big plans for his birthday party. When Max invited him to it, he said yes.
Perhaps my son won't grow up and change the world. (How often does that happen? I'm not raising The Buddha here.) But this weekend, Max changed a world—the world of another child who doesn't know much about people with special needs.
Interactions like this are important for changing attitudes toward people with special needs, finds a new British study of 1520 kid ages 7 to 16. Those children who had more direct contact with people with disabilities generally had less anxiety about people with special needs and increased empathy. Even indirect contact helped; just observing people interact with those who have special needs or being aware of other people's friendships with them improved kids' attitudes.
"We have known for some time that integrating children with disabilities into the regular classroom can improve attitudes," noted study author Megan MacMillan, of the University of Exeter Medical School in England. "What we have established here is just how much of a difference a greater presence in day-to-day life makes."
Surprising, this isn't; it's common sense. But I think it's something we may forget as parents of kids with special needs. At times, we get crushed by the stares and the gawking. We see only the barriers. But breaking down that invisible wall could change other children's perception of children with special needs. It could make kids more generally open-minded. It could make them better human beings. Who knows what it could do.
Over the years, people who know Max have spoken of his infectious cheerfulness. Yes, he is one happy child, though I believe the impact he's had goes way deeper. I can't verify it, like the study authors can, but I know that he has changed perceptions people have of kids with special needs.
Of course, this doesn't happen instantly. Sometimes, it's just the opposite. Last night, a father and his sweet three-year-old showed up at our door. I knew the dad only through a local Facebook group, and he'd done me a favor of cutting up some extra butcher block I had; he'd come to return the pieces. In his excitement, Max grabbed the little girl by the shoulders and tried to pull her inside. She got scared. "It's OK, he's very friendly," the dad said. They left to have dinner. It's going to take awhile before this girl understands Max, but once she does I'm betting it will impact her perception of other kids like him.
"Change your thoughts and you change your world," Norman Vincent Peale once said. Every single time a new kid meets Max, Max has the chance to change a world. And your child does, too.
I hope you made it clear to Max that it's NOT OKAY to grab others. Enthusiastic or not, respecting other people's space is a boundary that absolutely must be respected.ReplyDelete
A work in progress, for sure.Delete
Some with special need will never be capable of understanding boundaries, nor respect for that matter. Great post Ellen!Delete
There are some "typical" people who don't understand or repspect boundries as well. All of us are differently abled. We all have likes, dislikes, strenghts and weaknesses. I hope that someday, people are just viewed as people, regardless of the ability. Everyone is different from the next. That is what makes us individuals. Our " special" children are no exception to this rule. So we continue on....in our journey to promote inclusion and educate others. Ideally this starts at a young age, as kids are now in schools together. It will get easier and acceprance will grow with time.Delete
This is a great reminder that all kids are the same and that early interactions can stop intolerance.ReplyDelete
It is an important study and important reminder that we may be opening people's minds even when we don't realize it, just going about our daily activities.Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
It is amazing how big an impact those early interactions have on children. Even when there isn't direct interaction, children watch, learn, and form impressions. You never know who is watching...that's for sure.ReplyDelete
I love thinking about it that way. My 5-year-old with CP is in a red power wheelchair and his joystick is a golf ball. Kids are drawn to him and I sometimes think he is like an ambassador for special needs. The kids check out the chair, then the communication device, then see how happy my son is to see them, then they ask questions and eventually the parents move closer and sometimes do the same.ReplyDelete
I can automatically tell you I am more empathetic and kinder because of my special needs siblings and so are my friends...it makes me laugh that they have to have studies to see the apparent obvious :) I loved this post Ms. Ellen.ReplyDelete
Our world changed when our special needs daughter was born and we are so much better for it. We are a kinder more loving family and thought goes into each and every word between our children. We have a variety of friends with children that have a variety of special needs and our children fully grasp that different people just do things differently. It really is amazing to watch. It still blows my mind the amount of parents that raise their children without teaching them to be kind as well.ReplyDelete
Great message. I hope we can count on "typically abled" parents and children to be open-minded and accepting.ReplyDelete
Ellen - I love this post. Personally, I can say that Max has helped to change MY world. I have cerebral palsy and it's not something that I felt comfortable talking about for a long time. Your blog was one of the first special needs blogs that I discovered, and you and Max helped me to realize that disability doesn't have to be taboo...it doesn't have to be spoken about behind closed doors, in whispers. So thank you to the both of you for helping me change my life. :)ReplyDelete
Nice story you're right people who are visibly different do change the world I know this from personal experience.ReplyDelete
Love this! You wrote it so beautifully, thank you!ReplyDelete
The band people at my school are tolerant.ReplyDelete
Yes, yes, yes!! Soooooo true!!ReplyDelete
Love this so much I've pinched it (with credits).ReplyDelete
Thanks again Ellen.
I think that once kids with special needs can see that other kids like and accept them they can be more comfortable so it's an all-around win. My 11 year old daughter has bilateral moderate sensoineural hearing loss and uses hearing aids plus an FM system in school. Well she will once it gets there. She started middle school today(gasp) and lo and behold the FM was delivered to the wrong middle school. We are also beginning the process of adopting a child with special needs.ReplyDelete
Beautifully said...and written.ReplyDelete