I read a blog post recently by another special needs mom I know. She wrote about her child’s cheerful disposition, and how that helps shape her outlook on things. I can relate to this – Maura is such a happy creature most of the time, and has such great reactions to things. One Christmas, she entertained extended family with her sheer joy and excitement with every single gift, no matter how big or small.
It’s easy to be positive about life with a special needs child when they have a naturally cheerful disposition.
But something this mom wrote made me pause, and think. And it has been weighing on my mind since reading it.
What she wrote was basically this – Because her child is cheerful in disposition, people want to be with her child, help her child when need be.
It is true, people always want to help out the nice kids, the happy kids, the easy kids. The kids that don’t need as much of an effort from you.
Yet this truth makes me a bit sad.
Maura is an example of the type of child teachers and aides want. First, she’s a girl, and in the world of special education, girls are the minority. I’ve had therapists excited to finally have a girl to work with. Maura is flexible in nature, easy to work with most days, and loves going to school. Now, she does have moderate cognitive disabilities, which means she requires more input, guidance and supervision. She struggles with basic concepts, staying on task, cannot write, can read only things like her name, which she’s seen a thousand times.
At least she’s good natured about it. And for that I am grateful.
She’s the child with the cheerful disposition people are happy to help.
But what about those who aren’t as cheerful? The ones that struggle with sensory issues, who have no way to communicate? The ones who can’t say “This bothers me.” so lash out instead to make their uncomfortableness known? The ones who you have to chase down, who scream and flail?
The ones who people don’t really want to be around, don’t really want to help.
If you’re lucky, you get that amazingly dedicated person who sees the child you love. The one who sees the struggles your child has and is as desperate as you are to help them through that struggle. The one who greets all her students with the same sincere smile, because she cares about them all equally.
Maura has had a couple of these teachers. I’ve seen them love Maura lots, and love her more difficult classmate just as much. I’ve seen them deal with frustrated flailing children and never blame the child for acting out – instead, they say “Oh, it must have been something I did, I missed, I should have known better than to do that around them.”
It is refreshing.
I’ve also seen those who inwardly recoil from the more difficult, less cute child, or give them less attention. I’ve seen Maura treated with less patience when she was the taller, awkward, more needy student than her smaller, more capable classmates. And yes, it stung.
But I know that others have dealt with much worse.
I’m finding it hard to put things delicately – it’s easy to talk about being positive when you’ve had positive experiences. When your child is the one people are bending over backwards to help out. Because it’s easy to help them out, and then you leave with a warm fuzzy feeling for helping said child in need.
Yet in the corner is the other child – the difficult child. The one who tantrums and throws things. Who doesn’t like to be touched, and may be a bit smelly because they’re not toilet trained just yet, or because of chromosomal issues, looks odd or can’t move easily.
A therapist once told me how when you have a child who doesn’t talk, you find yourself not talking to them because you don’t get that input back from the child. I’m guessing that sort of thing plays a factor here – you’re less wanting to help the more difficult child because you don’t get that positive feedback.
Except these are the children who are in desperate need of help, of positive people intervening in their lives to help them out. They need the help too, just as much as the cheerful child. Maybe even more so.
More than the child, their parents need more support as well. They are the ones in the trenches, day in, day out. They are their child’s “safe place” and sometimes bear the brunt of the frustrating day.
And they love their child, as difficult as they are. They love their child fiercely, in a way that most of us cannot begin to imagine. Because they know that their child is one of the ones that are harder for the general public to love, or even like. They’ve been told that their child is just spoiled, needs beating, is being a brat. They’re told that they are the cause of their child’s ill behaviors, that they are bad parents. Their child is the one the teacher doesn’t want to have, the one the other parents don’t want sharing a classroom with their own child because that child might be disruptive.
Their child doesn’t make others feel good. Their child is the one no one is rushing to help.
But I know their child is amazing. Their child is just as deserving of my help as any other. They deserve your help. Their parents deserve your help as well. Being a special needs parent is hard enough – when your child is one of the difficult ones, that makes it harder. You can’t get out easily. It’s very hard to find a sitter. You can’t socialize with parents much. Other parents may steer clear of you, thinking they’re being respectful, giving you space, when inside, you’re desperately hoping for a friendly smile and “Can I help?”
Anyone can help the cheerful child. But those who cheerfully help the difficult child – those are the people who I really admire.
My shirt from Sevenly, which inspired the title of this post. Sevenly helps charities fundraise via some awesomely designed tees. This particular shirt helped Reece’s Rainbow, a Down Syndrome adoption ministry. Check out Sevenly for a new cause every week!