We had friends over for a play date last month. When one of the friends touched James’s Thomas train, he melted down. His mom called him over to whisper in his ear that James is different and doesn’t know how to share, especially his special things.
Last week at the park a big boy was blocking the slide, making the other kids say a password to get by. When James tried to get by, the big boy said, “Say the password!” James shrieked and flapped, then he just pushed the big boy out of his way.
Special needs kids are different. That’s ok, of course. But kids don’t automatically have the skills and knowledge to know how to treat someone who is different. My sister has Down Syndrome and I very clearly remember the first person who made fun of “retards” in front of me. I remember the first adult who used that word also. You know what? They were mother and daughter.
So how can we teach our kids to show understanding for someone with differences they may not really understand? It starts with the parents. (This is especially true for homeschooled kids. Public school kids are exposed to a bigger variety of people. They see kids in wheel chairs, kids with Down Syndrome, and probably even have main-streamed autistic kids in their classes. Homeschool parents need to take full responsibility for teaching their kids about special needs kids they may meet at church, on the play ground, in a co-op, or at a friend’s house!) Here are a few tips on how to help your typical son know how to treat my son with special needs:
- If you know you’re going to be around a child with special needs, talk to your kids ahead of time. Explain as well as you can what his special needs are. If he’s autistic, he may not be able to talk. He may have trouble sharing. He may not be able to eat the snacks everyone else is eating. Help your child be patient and kind. Teach your children different is not bad. It’s just different.
- When seeing a child with special needs is a surprise (for example, you’re at the park and the little girl in the swing next to you is using sign language), model proper behavior for your child. Don’t stare, be friendly, and answer any questions you child may have with kindness (especially if the other child can hear you).
- Don’t use the “retard” or “retarded” as a synonym for “stupid.” Never. Not ever. Don’t let you children use it. Special needs kids, just like your kids, were created by God just as they are. Respect that. Respect special needs families.
Taking the extra time and attention to teach your kids about differences in people can make a big difference in how they treat kids with special needs!