I adopted my son, who is missing part of his arm, six years ago. He is such a wonderful, loving child, and not a day goes by that I don’t give thanks for the privilege of being his mom. Here are three things I wish I had known, however, about parenting a child with a visible special need.
1) I wish I had known that an incredible number of parents never take the time to teach their children that pointing at someone who is different is NEVER EVER EVER acceptable. So many children (and adults) respond terribly when they see someone with a visible special need. I wish more parents would be proactive and explain to their children that just because someone looks different, it is never okay to whisper, giggle, or say mean things. If you are a parent who hasn’t had that talk yet with your kids, please do it today. Making fun of someone who might look different is just plain wrong.
2) I wish I had known that I needed to prepare myself in advance on how to react in public when people were being mean to my child. The first few times it happened, I guess I was just so stunned that pure emotion took over and the Mama Bear came out. It is important to have a plan for your whole family, including your other kids, on when and how you wish to respond. This can be very empowering for your child as well, for him to know that the whole family has his back when people are being unkind. In our family, we usually give a pass to kids who are under seven or eight years old, as most of the time their comments (even if not said in the right way) are more curiosity than cruelty. But above age eight, if someone is laughing or pointing at my son, I am going to ask the child where his parents are or take him aside and tell him how rude he is being. I get phone calls frequently from parents who adopted children with limb differences who tell me that they never realized just how powerful their feelings of anger would be when someone is making fun of their child.
3) I wish I had known just how much my son would teach me about perseverance and overcoming obstacles. He is such an inspiration to me. I remember sitting with a preschool teacher as she told me that there were things TJ would never be able to do, such as threading beads or using scissors. Meanwhile my “don’t tell me I can’t do it” son was sitting behind her threading a necklace in his own special way. He has taught me that even when others are trying to make you feel different or tell you something is impossible, with ingenuity and inner strength you can definitely ‘achieve what you believe.’
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer
If your child has a visible special need like Amy’s, what are some things you have learned? We look forward to hearing your words of wisdom in the comments below!