When you hear the term “special needs” what do you picture? Down Syndrome? Autism? Do you realize that there are several conditions and causes that may earn a child the “label.”
Special Needs Does Not Have a Look
You cannot always look at a child and KNOW they have a special need. Special Needs does not have a “look.” There is no one distinct facial feature, speech pattern, or gait. Each and every child is different… regardless of their condition. How do I know? Because I am the mother of a special needs child.
Unless I (or someone that knows) have told you that my youngest daughter has special needs, you can not just look at her and know.
She looks a lot like her older siblings did when they were her age. They have no special needs.
She does not have any facial features often accompanied by conditions such as Down Syndrome.
She does not wear glasses, a hearing aid, walk with braces on her legs, or have any distinct mannerisms.
She looks like your average toddler… perhaps just a bit big for her age.
But… my toddler has special needs. Monkey has both Expressive Speech Disorder (ESD) with Initial Consonant Deletion (ICD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Yet you cannot tell she suffers from either at those by looking at her. I know that I cannot. I am only reminded when she tries to communicate with me and I cannot understand. Or when she is seeking a sensory that I am still learning how to fulfill for her. And, most often, when others stare and point when she has a meltdown.
You see… because her disorders have no physical appearance, people assume my toddler is simply throwing a fit. That she is being a brat. That Colby and I are allowing her to misbehave. That we are bad parents. That THEY could handle her better. Wow.
If they only knew.
Most recently we were at a restaurant and had a pretty long wait for our meal (typical with our large family). We usually come prepared with a tablet so she can play games or watch videos in order to keep calm during our dining experience. This is not for us more so than for the other patrons. We have seen the looks enough to know what people think. Even though we only take her to “family-friendly” restaurants… some of the others dining with us could do without the “family” and forget the “friendly“.
Anyways, Monkey was particularly tired that evening for some reason. Nothing was working. All of our usual tricks were exhausted and she was still very unhappy. Our food had still not come and she was crying. I noticed the couple at the table next to us glancing our way. The man at the table turned all the way around in his chair to just stare for a good minute. As if he was checking to see if we were going to get her “under control.” He then turned back to his wife and they proceeded to talk more… most likely about Monkey considering the hand motions and eye shifts. All in front of their preteen daughter. Nicely done. Great way to teach her to judge others the way you just have. I am doing my best to not judge you by your actions towards my child.
Ever since Monkey was diagnosed with her disorders about 8 months ago, I have learned a good deal or two about people. And honestly, it makes me sad. Sad for my daughter. Sad for my family. Sad for humanity.
I have wanted to make signs or t-shirts to take with us on outings for those times when we cannot calm her:
It seems everyone else thinks they know what she needs better than we do. That they can get her to communicate with them when we cannot. That somehow they can fill her sensory tank quicker than we can in order to calm her down. Or, that they can simply discipline her since we do not seem to be doing so.
Why? Because, oh yeah, they do not know.
Why don’t they know? Oh yeah, because special needs does not have a look.
Special needs has just that… needs. So do you and I. Their needs my be more prevalent or challenging… but they do not define the person.
Special needs has feelings. And they are often hurt by those oblivious and quick to judge.
Special needs has a heart. Quite often the biggest you will every come in contact with.
Special needs has a face. And it is beautiful in each and every instance.
Please remember the next time you see a child crying, shouting, being defiant, or otherwise disrupting your day in some way… be understanding. You never know the story behind the tantrum or meltdown. The parent may be doing their best… and I can assure you just want it over quicker than you do.
And just because my daughter or another child does not have the “look” you think she might, her special needs tell me otherwise. I see them daily although I see my daughter first. SHE is all that matters. Not her needs or disorders. Why? Because she DOES have a look and, to me, there is none sweeter.
Do you often realize when a child has a special need?
Did you realize there were other special needs than the ones we hear about most often? My only request… be kind to each other. We need more friends in this world than enemies. And, most importantly, be kind, compassionate, and loving. The world can use a few more people like you.