I studied child development as an undergrad. I've been a preschool teacher, high school teacher, and middle school teacher. In addition, I spent most of my legal practice as an attorney focusing on juveniles, most of whom had special challenges of one sort or another.
So when I say that I have failed children over and over, it is quite a confession.
But I have failed children - and their parents - by often not recognizing special needs when they were not visually obvious.
As the mother of a kid with some exceptional needs, I figured I'd come clean and help the rest of you avoid making judgmental, self-centered idiots of yourself.
Learn from my mistakes!
Don't assume that a kid is "okay" based on appearances.
When The Loki is tired after a night of seizures, outgrowing his epilepsy meds, or trying a new attention medicine, he can appear to be a seven year old of normal intelligence and physical ability. And, in fact, he is. He doesn't need a wheelchair or a sign language translator.
Except, and this is the tricky part, he might get lost. Or he might have trouble remembering or following simple instructions.
He isn't okay without some extra help. He isn't safe or able to perform to full ability without some adjustments.
So, side eye to the lady who was glaring at me when I made my seven year old hold hands on our walk across campus. Yes, he knows not to cross streets without looking. But without a buddy, he'll sometimes wander across the street anyway.
Do assume parents are the EXPERTS on their kids.
I know a lot about child development in general. But there are only two kids that I can tell you everything about - their medical and educational histories, their motivations, their emotions. My kids. That's it.
So, if I am put in charge of your kid or I am bringing him somewhere, I no longer hesitate to ask, "is there anything I should know?"
Tell me that he gets scared in the dark, won't go to the bathroom without a crack in the doorway, or is allergic to sesame seeds. Let me know that she needs structure or more time or someone to hold her hand.
Parents, don't be scared to share those things with others. If they don't know, they can't help.
Adults, don't be afraid to ask. If you truly mean well, you might just make someone's day!
Remember that we ALL have strengths and weaknesses.
Grace means that we accept that about others and ourselves.
I am great in social situations. So I look around, find others who struggle, and give them a way "in" to the group. But I am aware that they might not want that, so I leave the decision up to them.
On the other hand, I cannot navigate or drive well. I let others drive whenever possible. So if I bum a ride, be kind! I'll cook you dinner or watch your kids.
Kids are the same way. Some are so sweet. Others are funny. Each has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, regardless of disabilities and abilities.
Sometimes, challenging kids make it hard to remember that. Sometimes, we don't see the exceptionalities.
We are too busy not looking or judging.
It's time to change that and start making the world a better, more accepting place, especially for children facing special struggles.
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