Friday, April 4, 2014
What Do I Say?
Most people aren't cruel. They're just confused. Rather than say the wrong thing, they say nothing.
Uncertainty breeds silence and silence breeds fear. Fear destroys.
So how does one explain the actions of special needs individuals to the typical little ones around them?
First, work on yourself. Children instinctively know when we're uncomfortable which scares the daylights out of them. If the person who always takes care of me is scared, there must be something to be frightened of. Read all of the following suggestions and take them to heart yourself. We as adults always have room to grow and learn too.
Don't discourage honest questions. Children are curious by nature. Much better to take learning opportunities and grab teachable moments rather than to perpetuate social taboos. Children look to us for answers and guidance and they force us to closely examine what we ourselves may be uncomfortable with. Face your own fear and if need be your own prejudice. Your child might just give you the perspective to see more clearly.
Answer the question. I remember the first time a little one looked at Isaac and asked why he wasn't talking. The adult in me reeled. As I tried to compose an answer translating my son's communicative difficulties to this inquisitive four year old, Isaac began to babble. "Oh," the little one commented, "Now he's talking." This precious sweet child didn't care one bit about Isaac's ability to label nouns or articulate intelligibly. She was just concerned that he was being quiet.
Address the fear. Fear, like curiosity, is natural. It is not something to punish but rather something to move past. Assess the situation. Reassure. "He's ok." Isaac can be loud and he expresses his emotion more visibly than society deems proper. He may flap his hands and make loud sounds. He may yell. He may cry. His reactions are different and that can be scary. That's ok. To be honest, sometimes I get scared too. Please don't tell your child not to be afraid. Instead, assure them of the entire situation. "It's ok." The little one is concerned for Isaac's well being but they are more concerned with their own. That's fine and natural. Do what you do best. Reassure.
Translate. Give your child words. "I think he's ______ (insert emotion here...happy, sad, upset, frustrated, etc.). Together look for the similarities instead of concentrating on the differences. Autism is typical behavior with a megaphone. Remind your child of when they were excited or mad or sad and of what they did. We all jump and yell when we're excited. Haven't you seen the World Series? We all yell when we're mad. We cry when we're upset. That's the point. That's the similarity. That's what we teach.
Love not pity. Smile. Help if its evident that you can. Speak if its appropriate. Then go on. Later talk to your child about how wonderful it is that we aren't all the same. Everyone is different and that difference creates beauty.
I watched a Mr. Rogers program where he did a great job explaining difference to children. He wanted to draw a rainbow and got out just one color. He talked through how we needed many colors to make the rainbow. They all work together to make something beautiful.
So do we. I love you all sweet friends.