It might be difficult but I can raise my child with special needs if you can raise your child to accept her.
That right there will preach.
Let's face it - socialization is a hard, hard thing for many children with special needs.
Some of our children are nonverbal while some engage in echolalia, repeating phrases from memory that often have nothing to do with the present situation. Some are brutally honest. Still others get fixated on one particular topic, like bugs or volcanoes, and that is all they want to talk about. Many invade others' personal space while some of our kiddos simply prefer to be left alone.
Either it's difficult for our kiddos to know how to engage another peer in play or their peers don't want to engage in play with them because they don't know what to make of our children.
Honestly, our children can just be hard to play with sometimes.
Many parents of special needs kiddos do all they can to teach their children how to make and be a friend. Social skills groups, play groups, play therapy, relationship training.... the list is endless. We also spend quite a bit of time advocating for our children, helping the public become aware and accepting, teaching others that our children are much like neurotypical kids with many of the same interests and hobbies.
But I believe social acceptance is a two way street.
Typical kids often need social skills training just as much as their special needs peers.
Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate what I'm saying.
- A little girl who just happens to have autism is playing on the playground after school is over. In social skills group, she has been working on approaching a peer, looking them in the eye, and saying, "Hi. My name is ___. Do you want to swing/slide/dig in the sand/whatever?" She finally gets up the nerve to go try this with another little girl on the playground. When she gets done reciting her very practiced piece, the other little girl looks at her and says, "No."
- Two children are playing video games. One is neurotypical (NT) and one has special needs (SN). While the special needs child is waiting for his turn, which isn't always an easy task for any kid, he flaps his arms, hums, and talks to himself. The NT child gets very embarrassed, hands the gaming device back to the other kid, and walks away without finishing the game.
- A group of NT children are jumping on a trampoline. A child with SN approaches and asks to play. The kids aren't sure what to do or say because they don't know if he can jump.
- A SN child frequently wears a bib because of drooling. Some children call him a baby because no one their age wears bibs anymore. Other kids simply wonder why he needs one but are afraid to ask about it.
Social skills therapy is never going to be completely successful if the children with special needs are the only ones receiving it.
Our NT kiddos have to be taught how to interact with children different from themselves. They need to spend time with peers who are in wheelchairs, who are visually impaired, who are deaf, who are nonverbal, just to name a few, so that they come to see the similarities instead of just the differences.
Social skills training will work best when it's conducted in an environment where it is safe to kindly ask questions. Where trained therapists answer those questions in a straight-forward manner. Where children learn about each other and the variety of ways that happiness and excitement can be expressed. Where kids learn to voice their negative emotions in an appropriate fashion. Where children start to grasp the concept of personal space. A place where children discover all the many things they can do instead of what they can't do.
I just think socialization works best when we all work on it together. We all have so much to teach one another. And to learn from each other.
And before you start thinking that I'd also like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, let me give you just one example of the good that can come out of these mixed NT and SN social skills groups that I've seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.
About a year ago, I was observing at a school that is made up of 50% NT children and 50% SN children.
It was lunchtime and the kids were seated at a rectangle table, happily munching and talking to one another.
One small boy seated at the head of the table was nonverbal. In front of him was one of those big red GoTalk type buttons. He reached out to push the button and I heard a recorded voice say, "milk, please."
Well, the teachers were busily helping other children get their juice boxes open and Tupperware lids off. So the little boy patiently pushes the button again.
Still no response from the teachers.
The boy pushes the button a third time, and to my utter delight, the little NT girl sitting to the right of this small boy, says in the clearest and loudest voice, "Hey, Teacher! He said he wants milk!!"
It brought tears to my eyes.
Now that little boy didn't actually speak the words. But because this young girl had spent so much time around SN kids, she understood that big red button was that boy's voice. And she thought nothing of saying, "he said he wants milk", because in her mind, he did say he wanted milk. He just didn't say it the same way she did. Honestly, I don't think she even noticed. And she certainly didn't care.
That right there is what I want for all our kids, special needs and typical alike. We have so much to learn from one another. We just need to be willing. To be unafraid. To be accepting.
And we'll all be richer for it.
Maybe I do want the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Is that such a bad thing?