Caring for the Special Needs Child

This article was compiled by Naomi Hostetler, a young lady who married a former second grade student of mine, which makes me rather old. I am very pleased that he found such a thoughtful wife. 🙂 Naomi loves and helps to care for a special nephew, and this subject has been on her mind a lot. I have added a few paragraphs from my own circle of brave acquaintances and I’ll tell you that I cried when I read their honest words. It is why they are all anonymous, so they can say it like it is.

Photo by alexandre saraiva carniato from Pexels

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The following is a result of five kind mamas who shared their time and thoughts with me as it pertains to caring for their special needs children. My only wish is to help advocate for these children among those whom it is sometimes hardest to speak honestly to on a delicate subject- the ones closest to us. Let’s learn together, shall we?       

There is many a disabled child who longs to keep up, to run to the swing set, to run up and down the steps, to master difficult mathematical concepts and to be accepted as one of the flow. Their sense of self-worth is often more fragile because of the differences in their lives from what they see in their peers, and it most crucial to do our part as families, friends, and teachers to help them realize their value as a creation of the Master Craftsman.

The SN Child is in fact, first a person. They have their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. A child’s disability does not define him, hence do not go about introducing them as “This is ________, the ONE with ______.” It is painful to be used as a showpiece, and one must be sensitive to the reality of making the child a celebrity because of his disability. Yes, this disability has changed their lives and yes it is part of who they are, but it does not need to define them. First, they are a person.

You will forestall much pain in the hearts of an SN Child and his parents if you think before you speak. “Is he normal?” Really? Who says what is normal? “At least he/she is cute!” And there is nothing else to offer? “He seems smart.” Seems? “How can you stand to watch him face this, (do her bowel routine, struggle through the therapy programs, etc.)?” How would you stand it? “Why does he need a wheelchair/walker, etc?” Every mama would protect her child from rude remarks, but when their child has an extra high mountain to face in the road of acceptance or dark times of physical pain, rude remarks tend to feel amplified. Just think about it. Would you like to hear it? Would your child like to hear it?

The most significant rule in caring for the SN Child is one we all know well- The Golden Rule. Put yourself in their shoes (or try as best you know). Children want to be friends, not freaks. Always assume competence when you are in the company of a disabled child, and leave the baby talk for that respective age group. It makes a conversation more comfortable to look someone in the eye when you speak to them, so don’t hesitate to get down on their level and then ask them age-level questions about what they’ve been doing. These children have lives other than their disability and they deserve the chance to talk about it! Personal questions that may be embarrassing to them such as questions about physical appearance, feeding tube, diapers, etc. are not okay. Here again, the Golden Rule covers so much. Would you be liked to be asked this question?  

There are many ways your children can play with handicapped children, and your effort in intentionally teaching your children about this will bless not only the child but also his mama. A child who relies on a wheelchair/walker for his independence can be made to feel as much a part of the social circle as the child who runs on two sturdy legs when there is a deliberate attempt to integrate them. It can be very small kindnesses, like guiding the slow paced one to where the crowd is going, at least stopping to say hi, or playing a game that the physically challenged can participate in, which might take some forethought. Often children run off with their friends and are scattered far and wide, but you can help your child to reach out to a SN child. Encourage them to not give up easily when the interaction feels awkward.

Maybe you are inviting a family with a disabled child for a meal. This child walks with a walker and finds the steps in your three-story house difficult to navigate. Have a little forethought, and he will feel much more welcome and much less like a nuisance. Put some toys that he/she will love on the main floor. If the child is old enough to appreciate the social interaction, have your children play indoor games for the evening instead of playing hide-and-seek outside after supper. Board games that can be played on a table which is an easy height for the child in the wheelchair, or games that can be played sitting in a circle. If the child is one who doesn’t care as much if he/she has other children playing with them but needs to be entertained, tell one of your teenage daughters to give mama a break after supper by showing them books and keeping them happy.

 The SN Child’s equipment to him is not a fun accessory. It is an absolute necessity. Anything with a handicap tag is very expensive and fooling around with something that is not yours to use is inconsiderate. Teach your child to play with the child in the wheelchair, but not with the wheelchair. Explain to them that this child’s wheelchair/walker is the same as his legs and would he like if someone played with his legs so that he couldn’t walk around? It isn’t kind or respectful. Don’t let your children push equipment around, even when not in use. To a child who depends on this for mobility, he is stranded without it. Many wheelchair/walker users tend to quickly feel vulnerable in a crowd. Don’t let your younger children push him around or “give him a ride” without consent because when other stronger children push them around it is very frightening. Please judge gently when the child in the wheelchair screams over being pushed about. It is likely not so much an attitude problem, as a feeling of lack of control and pure terror. Their equipment is personal space and is not a toy, and it only respectful kindness to acknowledge this.

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This article is not to scare anyone away from getting involved, but simply to inform us all of ways we can genuinely help carry burdens and share joys. Sometimes we are paralyzed for fear we will do or say the wrong thing. Genuine care expresses itself in love, and that is hard to misunderstand.

The next article is about caring for the special needs mother. I am sorry that some posts simply don’t show a comment option. I am not sure why, but I would really love to hear what you have to say. If you cannot find a reply option, feel free to contact me at dorcasp8 @ gmail.com. I will forward your thoughts to Naomi, so she can hear your response as well.

 

One thought on “Caring for the Special Needs Child

  1. Thank-you for the time and effort to compile this. It’s great for all of us to “brush up” on these practical ways to show Christian kindness.

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