We all know the old adage that we tell our children: “don’t talk to strangers”. Well, I think that it is important that we also implement a new adage “don’t talk as if my child is a stranger”. And definitely “don’t talk about my child” being strange. It happens all the time. I just don’t get it. And it happens with children and adults because, of course, children learn from adults.
Picture the situation. In the presence of my son, an adult will actually engage in conversation with me and talk about my son as if he is not even there! My son has autism. He is not deaf. He is not invisible. He is easy to see. He hears. He listens. And, surprise, surprise, he understands.
See this science test that he brought home last week? My son never studied for it. A 3 page exam that he took, without studying and scored 85%. Because he listened in class and heard the teacher and understood!
I really have a pet peeve about someone talking about children with special needs as if they are invisible. I would love to stop the conversation, look the speaker in the eye and bluntly say “Do not talk about my child in front of my child”, but I don’t want to draw more attention to it and embarrass or hurt my son’s feelings. So, more often than not, I try to bring my child into the conversation by directly talking to him about what the other person is talking about.
That way, I try to subtly remind and show the speaker that my son is actually someone that I recognize and that I would like to be acknowledged. I also try to help that person understand that it is okay and even kind to show some attention to my son.
Here’s the thing. I think a lot of the problem is that people just don’t know what they don’t know. And one of the things that they don’t know is how to talk or act in front of a child who has special needs. A lot of people don’t know that some children do not communicate the same way that others do. Some children may be shy and quiet. Some children may be anxious and nervous. Some children may be unable to verbally communicate. Some children may seem uninterested. But that does not mean that any of these children cannot hear, cannot read body language, cannot understand or cannot absorb what is happening around them.
Look at my child. Like other children with special needs,
He has eyes.
He has ears.
And, inside, you know what?
He has a heart.
He is a human and he deserves respect.
Our children are affected by the actions and words directed at them and spoken about them every day. They may not show it to you, but it’s true. It is not nice to ignore their presence. It is wrong. Maybe one day, one of these kids will write a book and let their feelings publicly be known. Maybe one day, one of then will surprisingly speak up and totally shock the naysayers. I don’t know.
For now, parents and families like me have to be the voice, the protectors, the messengers for our children with special needs. Many children with autism, like mine, repeat what they hear (echolalic). My son actually talks a great deal to us at home.
To the kids at school with him who are saying
“Don’t be a weirdo”
“What the heck is wrong with you?”
“Why are you acting like a maniac?”
My son hears you!! Please STOP it. Please try to refrain yourself from doing this in his presence. Please be considerate enough to talk about him outside of school, when he’s not around. To the teachers who are talking about
“Being sick of…”
“Being tired of this work”
Just know that my quiet child is listening and hears and understands what is being said around him.
And for everyone who sees a special needs child with his/her parent, please take the time to acknowledge the child’s presence. A simple little “hi” means so much. If you can manage a smile, that would be super sweet and kind. A nice comment or complement would be extraordinary. Remember, children with special needs (and autism and aspergers and ADD and ADHD and Downs Syndrome) are going to grow up to be adults in our world.
They are here to stay. They are a reality. The number of children with special needs seem to be increasing each year according to statistics. Try to step out of your comfort zone, just a little bit at a time. It is a wonderful feeling when that “special” child responds to you in his/her own “special” way. I hope that you can experience and enjoy it.
Kimmy Katari, mom to 4 amazing boys