A Special-Needs World

The Kids Just May Be All Right

At the end of the day, only about 15 percent of all the moms surveyed believe children should be separated from their peers based on a diagnosis. After all, kids with pronounced conditions are often shadowed by aides who not only help those children through their day but also often function as an assistant teacher the rest of the class can learn from. Perhaps more important: A properly run inclusion classroom actually creates a richer learning experience that extends well beyond the Common Core, with lessons in compassion and sensitivity, and a deeper awareness of the abilities (and hardships) we all bring to the table.

"If a child wants to be with other kids and no one is at risk of getting hurt," explained a mom of a typically developing child, "why shouldn't [he] be blended in?" A mom of a child with special needs adds, "Kids just want to be kids. Treat them with respect and help them to blend in where they can."

Sure, parents of kids with special needs worry about their children's ability to make friends, or even communicate, especially in inclusion settings. But 89 percent of them say their children seem pleased with their social network. Meanwhile, 79 percent of moms of typically developing kids gave the same response.

The encouraging message here: Our children are generally a happy bunch. At times, they're even more deft than we adults are at navigating the special-needs landscape. With our love, they can recover from the sting of an insensitive remark, and those who hurl a slur today can learn empathy tomorrow. "Part of being a parent" -- any parent -- "is being okay with a little discomfort," says Walter Gilliam, Ph.D., director of The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale School of Medicine, in New Haven. It's also about reveling in everyday victories. "Physical impairment doesn't diminish love, creativity, [and] adventuring," said one survey respondent. "I value my son perhaps more than the parent of a typical child, because he nearly died and he survived. Now he thrives in every sense that is most important. When he hits physical milestones, I celebrate. But not as much as I celebrate his kindness, cleverness, and great way with people."

What moms of children with special needs wish other parents knew:

  • "I may look tough, but know that I'm as fragile as my child. I just don't have the option to show it."
  • "Please don't tell me to just relax. There is always something to be done: doctor appointments, therapy appointments, insurance people to talk to, papers to be filled out, extra encouragement and praise and attention to be given. It's exhausting."
  • "We often can't do activities other people with kids the same age do, [but] I still relish the adult friendships [with moms whose kids don't have special needs]."
  • "Be more sensitive when bragging about [your] typically developing kids. Even though we are blessed and thankful for our kiddos, [we also] feel sadness for not being able to experience certain things that other people might take for granted."

A True Group Effort

Sincere thanks to the following, who connected us to parents who took our survey: American Society for Deaf Children; Autism Speaks; Easter Seals; Ellen Seidman (blogger at lovethatmax.com and on Parents.com); National Down Syndrome Society; United Cerebral Palsy; YAI. Thanks also to Amy Lepsis and Roseann Pizzi, two parents whose input was invaluable.

Life With Down Syndrome
Life With Down Syndrome

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Parents magazine.

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