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Don't Treat Special-Needs Kids Like They're Special

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Love That Max's Ellen S.: When you know that a child has special needs, do you feel like you have to treat that child like he or she is ... special? I'm here to say, please don't.

kid in a wheelchair
I'm mom to Max, who's 7. He has cerebral palsy, which affects his ability to talk and use his hands. The cerebral palsy does not affect his sense of humor, his eagerness to play with other kids, his love for ice cream, his curiosity about the world. The cerebral palsy does not make him an angel boy, either. He has meltdowns when you don't buy him a toy he wants; he's been known to hit when he gets mad; he pulls his sister's hair. In those ways, he is also a kid just like any other kid. 

But that's not always peoples' perceptions. Some see him as a kid unlike any other kid. I've had people ask if he likes to play with bubbles and Matchbox cars -- as if he were playing-impaired. I've had mothers ask if he ever fights with his sister -- as if he were incapable of sibling rivalry. I've had mothers say things to their kids (in front of Max's face) that are along the lines of, "Honey, you can play with him; just pretend he's like a baby" -- as if Max were deaf. Once, a stranger remarked, "Oh, that's so great he likes ice cream!" -- as if Max's disabilities affected his potential for pleasure and joy. 

I know that people don't mean to be meanspirited when they say these things. Often, they are trying to be inclusive. But in the process of doing so, they end up making Max seem like an "other" -- as in, a kid who is not just another kid. And they teach their own "typical" children the same. 

My son has special needs. But at heart, he is not special. He is a kid just like any other kid. Can't you treat him that way? 

Adapted from the version that originally appeared on Love That Max.

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7 comments so far | Post a comment now
XXXX September 7, 2010, 5:58 PM

You can’t treat him normal because he is NOT! If you don’t want him treated special then don’t call it “special needs”

Kristen September 7, 2010, 11:29 PM

I disagree with this article. My daughter has special needs(aspergers) and she gets very overwhelmed by other kids trying to treat her normal because she looks and acts normal. I understand that your son’s disabilities are more outward but other people are just trying to be respectful and cautious. The ice cream comment frustrates me, A LOT of kids these days have food allergies and other things they cannot have for other reasons so parents now a days just know to ask first. Also your son has cerebral palsy, a lot of people just do not know enough about it to be certain of what your child is capable of. Please stop taking offense, it seems that is all parents can do these day is be offended.

K September 8, 2010, 11:38 AM

As another mom of a kiddo w/CP who uses a wheelchair, I feel your frustration. My daughter is very verbal and no speech issues. Our personal “favorite” was the store clerk who upon hearing her speak, announced loudly to her coworker, “Aw, come meet this girl. She can’t walk but there’s nothing wrong in her head.” As my tween looked puzzled and upset at me, & I wasn’t haven’t my most p.c. day, I responded, “That’s right, she thinks very clearly and behaves appropriately. Too bad you don’t.” as we left our items and walked out of the store. My daughter would tell you it is still one of her most irritating and yet empowering moments.

Laurie Montijo September 8, 2010, 1:52 PM

I was intitally upset when I read the title as I have 2 very different special needs childre who are fundamentally the same as all other kids, but at times do need to be treated a little differently. Special Needs children do need to be treated with the same courtesy, thoughtfulness and lack of judgement we all deserve. Not as if any disability makes them immune to social insensitivies. I don’t think that lady would have shouted, “Hey this lady is fat but she has a checking account.”, if an overweight woman was at the check stand. As a whole, it seems there is a need to revisit what most of us were taught growing up, “Think Before You Speak!” Maybe add to that wisdom by adding, “Special Needs Kids Have Feelings Too.” Or, that everyone has feelings, fat, skinny, short, tall, amputee, woman, child… The experiences with my children, in particular my intelligent and verbal Autistic son have been equally thoughtless yet rather than making inappropriate statements my son has been treated rudely and ignored for his difference of sharing unsolcited “facts about prodcuts other customers in line have in their hands or baskets. Special Needs children need to be given the same courtesty,patience, empathy and lack of judgement we should all offer each other. The general public needs to be educated but it seems the most glaring issue is “Think Before You Speak”. Yes, fundamentally people are people but the examples seem to be more about educating the public or thinking before one speaks. In addition, empathy and compassion would be a much more helpful response by other adults when a child is acting out in public. I appreciate it when other surrounding adult or parents refrain from judgement, especially when there is a little compassion offered!

Claire September 9, 2010, 4:59 PM

I agree with this article, on the interior, special needs kids are just like any kids. At a school I once attended, the special needs kids were given uneccesary special treatment-their teachers encouraged them to copy other children’s homework, they were defended in all arguments, even if they were wrong, they could virtully get away with anything, really. I’m not saying children with disabilities do not need attention and care like all children do, I’m saying they just need the regular amount that all children get.

drink acai berry friut September 25, 2010, 12:49 PM

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Anonymous September 27, 2010, 4:49 PM

I agree with this article.

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