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Just some advice….

September 22, 2010

Folks when you see a child with a disability, try to see the child first and not the disability and while you are at it listen to what the parent or caregiver is saying to the child and try to see the heart behind it.  What am I getting at?  Well, it is my job as a parent to train my children to be productive members of society one day.  Some days that job is easier than others.  We all face those days when we think, “Lord, I’m not cut out to be this child’s parent.”   And, the “this child” probably changes from day to day, if not moment to moment if we have more than one child to raise.

Well, when you toss in a disability to the mix, this job gets even trickier because you aren’t just having to train/raise your child but you have to try to overcome society’s ideas of what your child can and can not do.  Unfortunately, society doesn’t seem to want to listen to the parent that knows the child the best.  Nope, society often tends to go with their prejudged viewpoints of what someone with ____________ disability can or can not do.  A new parent of a child with a disability is often overwhelmed with all the “your child won’t be able to do” statements.  Very few new parents of a child with a disability hear, “Congratulations your son (or daughter) will be your greatest joy and, at times, your greatest heartbreak.”  (Honestly, every parent quickly learns the truth of that statement whether or not their child has a disability.)

Hear me when I say this, I know you are trying to reassure me that my child isn’t a bother when you say, “It’s okay.” when he does something inappropriate.  And, yes, I understand that the toddler or preschooler doing this is cute and adorable, but what you don’t understand is I know my child and I know that if I allow this inappropriate (however cute at this age) behavior now, I’ll be fighting a long battle trying to stop it as he gets older (simply because he was allowed by others to get away with it so much longer than his typical peers would have been allowed).

When my son hugs you and I tell him, “No, we shake hands or high five.  Hugs are for family,” please don’t say, “Oh, it’s alright I love hugs.”  That sends him conflicting information and he thinks it’s okay. Trouble is — not everyone feels that way but if 9 out of 10 of you tell him it’s alright then he thinks everyone (but Mom and Dad) think it is alright and one day he hugs someone that doesn’t want hugged and is in big trouble.

So, you see when I correct my son in public I’m trying to train him to behave in a socially acceptable manner.  I’m doing it because I know he is capable of learning but I need your help — I need you to support me and not contradict me.  If you disagree with what I’m doing, try to get me alone and ask me why I’ve done what I’ve done — you might just learn something or I might learn something if you take the time to explain your thoughts.  We both can walk away with a better understanding if you just ask me.

Yesterday, my son who loves to hug people (even though I’ve tried for years to get him to stop and only hug family), hugged someone who didn’t want hugged and he refused to let her go when she asked.  He even tried to kiss her!  Why did he do this?  Well, it’s hard to figure out, but part of it is his age — he’s 17 now even though he looks about 12 most of the time and part of it is all his life he has heard from others “it’s okay” (said in that “he doesn’t know any better or understand” way).

Perhaps if years ago, others had joined me in the “no hugs” rule he wouldn’t have done it.  I’ll never know, but perhaps this post can help another parent who is desperately trying to train her child to behave in a socially appropriate way.  We all know training isn’t always an easy task, especially with kids who have a mind of their own and a desperate need to become independent creatures.  It can be even harder when that same child has a disability that limits them in some way and yet they have the same desires and need to become independent as the typical child does — the big difference?  Most of society believes they can’t (either achieve those goals or understand), so society inadvertently undermines the parent that believes the child can (might need some help along the way) and is attempting to train the child.

I remember what my son’s special ed preschool teacher said once to a fellow teacher (regular ed) shortly after my son dashed through the hall without his pants on, “Sure it’s cute now, but it won’t be when he is in your class.  Please don’t laugh and encourage it while he is in my class.  I’m attempting to train him to do what is expected of all our students.”  I know it’s hard — it’s hard when the typical child does something cute but totally inappropriate and yet, we as parents and society expect that child to learn it is inappropriate and we teach them.  That’s all I’m trying to do with my son who just happens to a disability — he is a future adult that needs trained, he’s not always going to be a cute toddler or child, one day soon he will be a man.  Before you say, but with his disability he won’t understand — newsflash, my son can tell you what is appropriate and what is not appropriate when asked (most of the time); yet there are days the “it’s okay” must play louder in his head than mom’s (or dad’s) voice saying “inappropriate.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2011 5:23 am

    I never thought of it that way. I would have been one to love to hug up your son.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective and helping me to be more supportive and thoughtful.

    • January 9, 2011 4:35 pm

      Kariann, thanks for understanding the heart behind the post. I understand how much a hug can lift someone’s day. I’m not saying my son will never get Mom’s okay to hug someone other than family, but I’d prefer the hugs be saved for family and close friends not the random stranger he runs into at Walmart.

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