Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to treat children and teens with disabilities (hint: like children and teens)

If you have a child with disabilities, you've dealt with awkwardness, misunderstanding, ignorance and even rudeness from people. It can be frustrating and upsetting. If you don't have a child with disabilities, perhaps you've felt unsure about how to treat kids with special needs, or you haven't been certain what to tell your own children. It can be frustrating and upsetting.

I asked parents what they wished people knew about talking and interacting with their children with disabilities. Here, their heartfelt wishes and requests. So now you know—and it never has to be unclear or uncomfortable again.

Treat kids and teens with disabilities like...they're kids and teens 

"I wish people wouldn't talk to our kids like babies, or expect less from them. My favorite people are the ones who talk to Ben like any kid."—Carrie

"Don't ask me what Alex did at school—ask him."—Helen

"I've noticed a group mentality that occurs. When one person is kind and engages with my daughter like she's a full-fledged human being, treating her like they'd treat any other 10-year-old, others do the same. The thing I most wish is that people would not pretend that she isn't there when she tries to engage. It's striking how many adults, as well as children (mostly adolescents), will just flat-out pretend she isn't there. I have watched my daughter ask another child her age a question, and the child will completely ignore her. Most painful to me is when my daughter then, likely based on the social skills training she's received, answers her own question with something like, 'Well, I think you liked that movie too!' Said child will continue to pretend there is not another human being present."—Pamela

"My daughter can HEAR YOU even though she is in a wheelchair and nonverbal. She had therapists from school who yelled their instructions at her."—Kristina'

"My daughter is a dwarf and people tend to treat her like a baby because of her size. She came home from a sleepover where they went swimming, and her very good friend told her she couldn't swim in the deep end because she wasn't tall enough. So she got stuck in the shallow end with the girl's preschool-age sister while all her friends swam in the deep end. She can swim the length of the pool without assistance! It's a constant struggle."—Jennifer

"Our children are people with feelings and thoughts and emotions. They are usually so perceptive and good at reading people that if you happen to be a nasty turd, our kids will whisper (or say out loud) something hysterical about you that will keep us laughing for days, months or years to come."—Julie

"My daughter does not have the cognitive ability to understand very much, and she is nonverbal. In spite of that, she still needs to be acknowledged with a smile and a 'hello.'"—Jennifer

"People act so embarrassed, like they shouldn't be looking at the kid or they don't know how to act around them. But the truth is, you don't need to know anything to say 'hi' and compliment a kid on their looks or attire, just like you would with any 5-year-old."—Megan

"I wish other kids understood that humor is universal. If you find a YouTube video cute or a joke funny, chances are so will another child regardless of ability! I mean, who doesn't love baby goats?"—Genna

Patience: still a virtue

"You need to give some children a chance to process what is being said to them or asked of them. Repeating it over and over again quickly won't make my daughter respond in a more timely, socially-appropriate fashion. Every time you ask her the question, her mind needs to reset the processing of it all over again. Give her a moment and if she really doesn't understand you, then let's break it down for her to understand what's being asked of her."—Mary

"I always tell people to count to 10 in their heads before repeating themselves."—Heather

"Eye contact and body language! My son can't talk so he's super-aware of people, and he communicates with eye contact and body language."—Courtney

"Let my child guide the conversation, rather than force him to answer all your questions. Go with his interests, even if they mean nothing to you."—Heather

"My son's not ignoring you, sometimes he doesn't answer right way. It takes a little longer to process what he wants to say."—Stacy

"My particular spectrum kid doesn't always understand verbal cues. He's a slow auditory processor. But he does respond well to written words. Sometimes, communicating longer or harder things are better through words. But this is not every kid! One size does not fit all on the spectrum."—Melissa

Spare our children the pity

"Don't feel sorry for my son. This is the only life he knows. He doesn't feel bad for having his condition."—Belinda

"My 3-year-old is not an inspiration because he woke up this morning. You don't know anything about him except that he's in a wheelchair! Explain to me how exactly he is your hero?"—Amber

"My son is completely capable of being an a-hole, just like his siblings. His disability does not make him sweet or darling!"—Courtney

Spare them the stares and comments, too. (Also: Don't pet them.)

"My daughter is still a baby so her disability is hard to detect unless you stare, which people do. Staring is hard for me, but the 'well-meaning' comments really hurt. 'What a tiny baby for 10 months!' 'She must have been a preemie!' 'Her head is so small!' Also, 'She'll grow out of this.' I'm not a pessimistic person, but I know she won't grow out of it. It's who she is, and that's okay."—Jaime

"Please stop giving my kid dirty looks because she laughs super loud. She's laughing. She's happy. Come on. Especially don't give us said dirty looks when we're at the 4 p.m. showing of an animated movie!"—Phoebe

"My son was a preemie, what I hated hearing was how 'He will catch up, don't worry.' No, he won't. He has delays and is short for 15. He will be just fine, but he won't 'catch up.'"—Angela

"Do not attempt to hug my daughter or pat her on the head. She is not a pet. Offer to shake her hand. Make eye contact."—Teresa

"Keep your damn hands to yourself. My daughter is tiny, nonverbal and uses a wheelchair. People come up and just pet her like a cocker spaniel."—Jo

Don't make assumptions

"I wish people would not assume that my son has certain traits, challenges or tendencies just because of his diagnosis. They're often wrong."—Lena

"Don't treat children with disabilities as if they are incapable of doing a multitude of things. Don't treat them as though they have zero capacity to cope with the most minor of disappointment or dissatisfaction, either."—Amber

"Not all children with disabilities are the kind you can see. My son's disability is mental, but otherwise he seems like most children. He tries so hard but he constantly feels bad because other kids make fun of him and some adults think he acts out. He's not perfect and I don't give him a pass on his behavior, but some of it is beyond his control."—Robin

"Just because my son can't keep up in some ways, don't assume he can't in other ways."—Betsy

"Just because my son is nonverbal doesn't mean he can't understand what people are saying to him or about him in front of him!"—Kristie

"Don't assume that my baby likes to be touched or caressed and likes peek-a-boo. My daughter has many sensory issues, on top of her cerebral palsy, that are invisible. Quite possibly, the most difficult comment to hear is, 'Well, she looks normal.' I'm not even sure how to take that."—Jessi

"I wish more people would think about disability like any other difference, and talk to their children about it. It's not offensive to talk about disability—it's offensive to act differently toward someone with a disability. People are always so afraid to say or do the wrong thing. Presume competence and the rest will follow."—Jen

Teach your children well 

"It's not personal. The fact that my son has difficulty looking at you doesn't mean he doesn't hear you or is uninterested. He actually loves meeting new people."—Jackie

"Don't hush your child when they ask a question about my child in a wheelchair. Answer his questions. If you don't know the answer, politely ask if your child can ask a question. This is how we eliminate the stigma and include all children in the conversation. Just because he's nonverbal doesn't mean he's not there. Interact with him. Talk to him. Learn his responses. They're subtle, but dynamic."—Amber

"Please avoid talking with your kids about our children's differences being 'better' or 'worse,' which further alienates them."—Betsy

"Teach other kids to include kids with disabilities in activities—like if they're at a party, and playing a game, ask the child if they want to play, too."—Jamelah

"It's okay to ask questions as long as they aren't judging. I hate when parents tell their child to be quiet when they ask things like 'What is on your legs?' Instead of embracing differences, they learn to be scared because the parents make it a voodoo topic. Just ask the question and learn the answer, it might be the start to a friendship!"—Rachel

1 comment:

Thanks for sharing!

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