Dealing with the social stigma of having a child with special needs can be hard for parents. Some parents feel bombarded by people staring at and commenting on their special needs children. It can be overwhelming and disheartening for parents to deal with social situations when they are with their special children.
Ask any parent of a child with special needs—they can probably tell countless stories of uncomfortable social situations involving their child. Whether it be rude comments, stares, or gestures, parents deal with these issues constantly. How can parents keep these social experiences from getting them down?
Obviously, each parent will deal with the social pressure in different ways. The first step is to accept the special needs of the child. This is a unique process for each individual and can take years to accept. Questions of why and how the special needs exist must be dealt with before complete acceptance will be achieved. The second step is to recognize that people are generally not mean-spirited, they are just curious. They are usually not trying to hurt feelings when they look at or ask questions about people with special needs. They just want to know why people with special needs are the way they are. However, they are not always tactful in how they approach this.
As the mother of a special needs child, I have had many experiences of people saying hurtful or stupid things about my child. It has taken years to begin to know how to respond to these people. Whether people ask, “What is wrong with her?” or try to sympathize by saying “I love people with [such and such] condition. My brother has it too” (when my child doesn’t have that condition), I have tried to figure out how best to respond. The most helpful thing I have found is remembering that they are just curious and that I don’t have to be rude in return. I try to give them just enough to satisfy their curiosity. They don’t need to know our whole life story. If they keep pressing for more information, I politely end the conversation or look for a way to physically leave the situation.
A parent’s reaction to these awkward and painful situations can greatly affect the special needs child. Whether the child has the cognitive ability to understand or not, they can sense the anger and frustration their parents feel when people are curious about the child. When the parent responds without negativity, the child senses that the parent is not embarrassed or ashamed of the situation; it makes the child more comfortable with himself.
Look forward to next week’s article on encouraging good social interaction at school with the special needs child.
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