Writing a script for your child to have on hand for when peers, out of ignorance or curiosity, call his younger sibling a “retard“? Not quite as much fun. But it’s important to arm siblings of kids with special needs with the words to thwart such attacks.
And what about the parents of children with special needs? Parents like me with soft hearts and thin skin. There was a time when I considered having cards made up to hand to strangers who stared or made unsolicited comments. I thought by having the words written out, I’d be better able to explain without getting emotional. Since then, my skin has thickened an inch or two and with time and experience, I now welcome the opportunity to address them directly, and calmly. Usually. More often than not, people are receptive upon hearing the information when delivered in a respectful manner. And yes, the “respectful” tone employed for such exchanges takes effort. Look out Meryl Streep — the Best Actress award goes to…
Addressing adults — check. I seem to have that under control. Minus the time when that crusty awful woman shushed us.
My son addressing kids in the school yard — check. He made this video and shared it with each and every class in the school.
So it seems we have it all under control. Almost. There’s just the matter of how I should deal with rude children. I’m not talking about the curious kids who question why my daughter is different. I’m referring to the children, who at even a young age, are intolerant of anyone who doesn’t fit inside their box of normalcy.
Apparently it’s not okay for me to box their ears or call them names, so I need to find a way to deal with them appropriately and maturely.
I am the adult. I am the adult. I am adult. Sometimes I need to repeat this a few times so it sinks in.
Yesterday as my kids played basketball in our driveway and I sat watching on the front steps (Avery bolts for the street sometimes, so I stay close to play traffic cop) three young girls rode their bikes up and down the sidewalk in front of our house. Each time they passed Avery would wave and shout, “Hi girls!”
One of the girls who knows Avery well waved back and smiled warmly. The other two, who go to school with Avery, didn’t wave. Or say hello. Instead they turned their heads away.
Tired of being ignored, Avery eventually stepped onto the sidewalk, preventing their bikes from passing. Avery’s friend chatted with her sweetly while the other two huffed and sighed impatiently.
“How old is she anyway?” one of them asked.
“She’s in grade one.” Avery’s friend told them.
“I don’t think so. She’s a baby. I’ve seen her with the kindergarteners,” the girl replied. “And why does she talk like a baby?” she went on.
Her sister, the third girl said, “Because she has…PROBLEMS. Come on, let’s go.”
As they rode off, my son who also heard the conversation, put his arm around his sister’s shoulder, planted a kiss on the top of her head and walked her back to the basketball game.
And I just sat there.
But feeling everything.
Pride. Sadness. Anger. Embarrassment. Guilt.
But now I have my own script.
To the girls, I would say, “It sounds like you have some questions about Avery. What would you like to know?”
Instead of lashing out, I’ll try to start a dialogue. Instead of assuming these kids are cruel (which isn’t fair, I know), I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps once they get to know Avery and see that she isn’t so “different” they will be more tolerant and understanding.
I guess my script isn’t really a script at all. It’s merely an introduction. But I think it’s a good place to start.