Be the Good in the World
Sometimes those who seem like the least able among us are the ones who make the most impact on a life. Persons with special needs can be caring and lovable friends, insightful conversation partners, and bright beams of happiness and positive energy. Unfortunately, it can be difficult at times for children to see beyond the physical differences and into the underlying potential. Here is a list of five things you can do to help your children accept these differences.
Friendship is the beginning of understanding. Try to teach your children this by asking the to step into someone else's shoes. Helping your family members to imagine what it would be like to have someone treat them differently can allow them to build an understanding of how they would want to be treated if the situation would reverse. Building that understanding gives them a point of references, a code of conduct they can strive to follow when they interact with special needs individuals.
Often the difficulties children have in these situations stem from a fear of the unknown, which is typically due to a lack of exposure. You and your family can be different. Teach your children to smile and wave when they see a person with special needs. Be sure to practice what you preach as well, as your actions will impact them much more than your words.You may even want to take them to volunteer so that they can get experience getting to know and love someone who has special needs.
Children with special needs are often left alone while other children play together. Teach your children to be different, and to make it a point to invite others to play with them. Your children may end up gaining new friends, and the children they reach out to will gain confidence. Carissa Garabedian, a mother of a child with autism, stresses the importance of inviting the parent out as well. Parents of special needs children may feel like they are unable to participate in some social events that seem routine to you. Planning a smaller scale get-together where they can be comfortable could be a good route to go. Even if the couple you invite turns you down, the simple act of reaching out will let them know that they, and their children, are accepted.
As was mentioned above, sometimes the ability to relate to someone stems from a lack of understanding or experience, or a fear of the unknown. Spending some time with your children teaching them about the different types of needs a person might have can help them understand that type of person better. This is especially helpful if there is a child in there class who is on the Autism Spectrum. Often children don't perceive their peers with ASD as having a special need, which can make it even harder for them to accept any behavioral differences between them. Educating your children about this and other types of special need can not only help them better understand their peers, but will empower them to teach others as well.
Parents of children with special needs need support, not pity. Gillian Marchenko, a mother of two girls with Down Syndrome, offers the following ideas:
- offer to have their child over for a play date
- bring over a meal
- help watch other children while they attend a doctor’s visit
In some situations, you may also want to consider teaching your children alternative forms of communication. For example, If someone at your child's school is hearing impaired you could teach your children some sign language. While most children with a hearing impairment will either know how to read lips or have a school-assigned translator, the gesture can help them feel accepted and loved. If a child in your neighborhood has a speech impediment, simply taking the time to talk with them often can help you and your family understand them better, and will show them that you care.
Be an Advocate
Children with special needs run a higher risk of being bullied. As you teach your children about bullying, instruct them on how they can stand up for other children, including those with special needs. Teach them to identify the bullying and get help. If your child tells you of a bullying incident, report it to the school.
People with special needs do not need you to feel sorry for them. They need you to be a friend and a supporter. Being those things will bring you a sense of happiness and fulfillment. For some, supporting and befriending others may become something that you want to do for a living. If that is the case with you then you might even consider pursuing a degree in special education. That way you can learn how to work with those with special needs properly and professionally. That is definitely a huge way to make a difference. However, no matter how you decide to help, you will be making a difference in the world.