First encounter with special needs child

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
First encounter with special needs child
8
Thu, 10-16-2003 - 11:56am
I'm the mom of a 2.5 year old dd. She is very inquisitive and curious.

We are having dinner tomorrow night with dh's co-workers and their families. One co-worker is the mom of 2 girls, one of which has multiple physical and developmental disabilities - impaired vision, cerebral palsy, paralysis of half her body, etc. She is 3.5 years old but cannot walk or talk, and she visibly has disabilities (what I'm trying to say here is that her face is very different from most children's).

I'm nervous about how my dd will handle this meeting, and I'm afraid she'll say something or act in a way that makes the girl or her mom uncomfortable. My dd has seen people in wheelchairs at the store and what have you, and she stares with interest. But she's never actually encountered someone with physical disabilities.

Can you please give me some tips on correct/appropriate words to say in front of the family, if needed? I think if we were alone, I would explain to dd that this girl is just a little different and she's special, and she is a kid just like her. What do I do if dd is afraid of the girl? Or asks what's wrong with her? (she does that a lot when we see someone with a "boo boo" like a cast or something). Or if she notes aloud that "she no eat by herself" or some such phrase.

DH and I are happy to have lunch with all these people, and we think it's great to expose dd to this situation and a child with special needs, but I want to be sure that I'm sensitive, and I don't use words that may upset anyone.

Thanks in advance for the advice!

Layla

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Thu, 10-16-2003 - 5:33pm

Hi Layla... I'm just lurking through here, but felt like responding to you.


I have a ds with cerebral palsy and he is weak on his left side. Now, I know he isn't NEAR as severe as the girl your dh's coworkers have. So please keep in mind that I have my opinion, but it's also one of someone who isn't dealing with the "big" stuff.


Personally, I prefer the blunt honesty of little kids! I've encountered many kids who will ask my ds "what's wrong with your leg?" when they notice his AFO (plastic leg brace) or "why do you have that?" and I'd MUCH rather they ask their questions than make up their own conclusions. And I'd much rather answer the questions then have the parents of the other kids trying to "be PC" and shush them (like I didn't hear them already).

Avatar for i_m_blessed
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-27-2003
Thu, 10-16-2003 - 8:18pm
Layla,,I have to agree with the previous post!!!! My daughter is 5 and has Dandy-Walker syndrome, cleft palate, trach, heart defects, g-tube, spina bifida, scoliosis, sensory issues, seizures & hip dysplasia!!! Now mind you she "looks normal" accept for the trach but sounds very different because of the trach and syndrome that she has!!!! She walks a little different but gets around like any other kid her age!! I prefer the blunt honesty of children as well and HATE the stares from adults that come with no questions only elbow jabs to the person they are with!!! Also I think that the parent of this SPECIAL little one is probably VERY use to all kinds of looks,& comments from others!!!!! Your daughter is not going to offend this mother by anything she says because she is a child speaking out of purity!! I have never been offended by a childs curiosity!! From my stand point I don't care for the word "retarded"(just my feelings and opinion)!! I also dislike when people stare silently(I often ask them If there is something they would like to know).I LOVE it when people ask questions, that shows they are interested and gives me a chance to get some knowledge out into the world about my daughters conditions!! The biggest thing I can say to anyone would be: Don't treat them any differently than you would any other child!! They feel all the same things as you do!! Say "hi" even if they can't respond, pat them on the head or shoulder, talk to them like you would any other child there,,Ultimately, treat them as you would want others to treat your child,, disabled or not!! Good luck with your dinner party!!! Relax,, your concern shows what a good person you already are!!!
iVillage Member
Registered: 06-25-2003
Thu, 10-16-2003 - 9:43pm
Layla,

Well, There isn't much I can add to what has been said. I do commend you on making efforts on behalf of this family, but I imagine thay have heard it all and seen it all.

Do treat the little girl like a little girl. Speak to her even if she can't answer and compliment her on something. All little girls love compliments! The best ones are of something she has done or achieved. The next best are of something she is or has; pretty hair, pretty eyes. Least special are the "pretty clothes" compliments, as that was probably Mom's choice anyway (so compliment Mom on it!)

Try to relax about the evening. Your daughter may pick up on your tension.

Good luck,

-Paula

-Paula

visit my blog at www.onesickmother.com
iVillage Member
Registered: 08-26-2003
Sat, 10-18-2003 - 12:58pm
Hi, I agree with the others. I work with kids with severe multiple developmental disorders and have friends with kids with special needs. If anything these parents understand the honesty of children. My Godson with special needs was taken to a wake for a deceased classmate a few years ago. When it was time to leave he knew enough that he needed to say goodbye to the deceased childs mother so he very nicely walked up to her and thanked her for the nice time he had at the wake.

Was she offended, absolutely not, she totally understood,and it even put a smile on her face for a few minutes at a very sad time.
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-08-2003
Mon, 10-20-2003 - 10:44am
Layla,

I am so glad to hear that your child will be getting to know someone special. I agree so much with all the other post as I dont know really what else to tell you . I hope things go really go for you and your daughter. My daughter was very Normal looking besides her trach and when at school all the other kids asked questions about this and why she was brought out in the wagon. Her teacher always explained that the trach was to help her breath and refered to it as a special necklace that she wore for breathing. They also questioned why she didnt walk out like that did and she explained that situation. They loved Angel dearly and all of them thought she was so neat because she wore a necklace and got to ride in the red wagon. This is something I think they will always remember becuase it was explained to them but also in kids terms something that will keep it in there memory forever. I always loved to answer any questions that kids wanted to ask about Angel but would get very angry at the moms who hushed their kids. I was at the doctors office one day when I kid about 5 years old ask his mom what was wrong with angel and his mom said loudly Ill explain to you later but that is what happens when you do drugs.....I spoke very loudly and set her straight. Always feel free to ask we love to explain and for a child that is something good for them to keep in mind they will always feel at ease arounda anyone with a disablity no matter what it may be.
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Mon, 10-20-2003 - 11:33am

Oh jenny moon!!! I can't believe that woman in the doctor's ofice actually said that!!! I can understand if she was trying to scare her child into staying away from drugs (and that's not even

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 10-20-2003 - 12:32pm
Hi, everyone, and thank you sooo much for your feedback. Unfortunately, I didn't read your posts until after the dinner, but I appreciate it and will think of your advice next time.

The dinner went really well, we had fun, and dd had really no reaction to the little girl - LOL. All that anxiety for nothing.... No, I'm glad I asked about how to handle it, because now I'm better prepared for next time we encounter someone with special needs - maybe tonight at the store, etc.

The only thing she said that related was when the little girl got some words out to her mom, and Miranda said, "Her talk?" and I said, "Yes, she can talk a little bit, right?" I think she assumed that she couldn't talk, and was surprised that she heard her say something after an hour or two. Other than that, she just acted fine and was much more interested in the girl's older sister, who is 7, lol.

And yes, Angie, you are right in inferring that I am not comfortable around people with special needs. I just tense up, especially with children. I worked at Children's Hospital in Boston for 2 years and saw all kinds of children every day there, and that helped me get more comfortable. But, when I see a child injured or disabled or hooked up to oxygen or tubes, I just want to cry.

Thanks again for your help, I appreciate the honesty.

Layla

PS - I can't believe that woman said "this is what happens when you do drugs." How ignorant!!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-25-2003
Mon, 10-20-2003 - 1:42pm

yay! I'm glad the dinner went well! :-)


And I was wondering if your dd would be more interested in the other family's other daughter, but you didn't mention how old she was, so I didn't say anything. But part of me figured they'd be spending more time engrossed in each other's antics rather than the dd we talked about if their ages where somewhat close. ;-)


Another thing I try to make sure I do when I am with someone who has a special needs child. I would ask about what his/her diagnosis is, to find out what is going on, but I also make sure I ask what they CAN do or has learned to do recently... to let the Mommy brag about their special child's accomplishments as well. :-)


I'm glad your worries were 'for nothing' and that it all went great!


Angie

SAHSM to Remy (6) & Daniel (3.5)
Co-cl of Work