Us and them. That’s actually the title of a back to school article in Chicago Parent, about “talking to your kids about special needs.” There are so many things wrong with that title I don’t even know where to start. Given that the article was written by a special needs mom, I have to believe that the editors came up with that polarizing title. Really? Us and them? How about Compassion is everything? Or We’re more similar than different. I don’t even have a special needs child (in the sense of this article) and this is rubbing me the wrong way.
I’m also grumpy as hell this week and everything is pissing me off.
But as happens when I flip through a parenting magazine (which I do next to never; in this case I was desperately trying to find a swim instructor who might be able to handle the near-panic chaos that can erupt unexpectedly when my sons get into the water), I read everything through the eyes of a twice-exceptional parent. The suggestions for talking to your kids about special needs children are very good, but they appear to be aimed at discussing (forgive me, I cannot think of another way to phrase this) more visible special needs, such as Down Syndrome.
But what about the less visible disabilities, such as Aspergers or Sensory Processing Disorder? I know a lot of kids with Aspergers, and it’s difficult to recognize on first glance. These kids need understanding and friendship from other kids too. They can be shunned so easily, because they can look and act so normally…until their coping skills are overrun and the meltdown hits. (Full disclosure: my son does not have an Aspergers diagnosis, but I wonder nearly weekly if he should. As it is, we deal with many of the same characteristics and issues.) Are we teaching our children that these kids are just wired differently? That we have a lot more in common than not? That compassion and patience (a lot of patience) are the default when dealing with anyone, not just special needs individuals?
2e kids often get hit with a double whammy. They are incredibly bright, with brains working levels above others. They’re also incredibly complex, with knotted wiring that can result in learning disabilities and anxiety and an alphabet soup of diagnoses. So if you have a kid in class (or out in the world) talking about high level physics at age 8 (what’s he rambling about now? I don’t like him, he makes me feel dumb) and then later losing his shit because he could no longer handle the seams in his socks AND the buzzing lights AND the sudden schedule change AND having to quit something on which he was deeply focused (OMG! the kid lost his mind! what’s wrong with him? don’t play with him, his weird might rub off)…how do you teach your children about that?
J has a very good friend with Aspergers. His friend’s mom has commented on more than one occasion on how J isn’t fazed by her son and his quirks, that he is such a good friend to her son. I’m pleased and proud to hear that, but not terribly surprised; J lives with his brother and pretty much nothing throws him anymore. He knows everyone is wired differently (we stress this constantly here at home) and everyone deserves compassion and respect. He’s also the most laid-back individual I’ve ever known, is more inherently kind than anyone I’ve ever known (with the exception of sometimes you really do want to kick your brother in the ribs…sigh…), and I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone. Ever.
I don’t know where I’m going with this; as I said, I’m having a week overflowing with irritation and frustration.
I just know that Us and them creates a divide exactly where one should not be. We’re all on this planet together, we have more similarities than differences, and how about we all start with finding our common humanity. There is no Us and them. There’s just Us.
All of Us. Just wired differently.
Oh yes. Just yes! When I was teaching, I tried to impress amongst a bunch of extremely judgy teens that what the world needs more of, is less judgement, more compassion. My sister had autism and I just see continually that people don’t see her disability – they just judge. So yes, more compassion and more acceptance of different wiring would be great. If we can start with our kids at home, well, that’s a start 🙂