November 13, 2023
Strange Looks and Stares
Written By: Victoria Safdieh- Founder of CARE
What happens when you’re out with your kids and they see someone who acts differently, but has a seemingly typical appearance? What happens when they see someone older than they are who walks funny and is drooling? What happens when they see a child that is clearly not like them and can’t talk but maybe makes funny noises? How do they respond? Do they stare, make faces or possibly make fun? The problem with intolerance begins when we make judgments based on what we think we know, rather than on what we know. In turn, those judgments get passed on to our children.
As parents, we want to set a good example for our sons and daughters, but sadly, this is not always the case. Often, we pass judgment when we don’t have all the information. I am a mother that has children with special needs. They have a complex mixture of issues to manage. I’ve had more than my share of strange looks, rude comments, and feelings of isolation from some family members, friends, and strangers over the years. It’s typical in our society and our community to judge what we see, which can lead to constant criticism. In my case, my children’s disabilities are clear for everyone to see— but, what about the disabilities that are sometimes hidden for example; autism, Tourette syndrome, some genetic disorders which are not necessarily obvious just by looking at the child.
No matter how old children are, they want to be accepted by their peers. They wish to have friends with whom to eat lunch in school, be invited to play dates, and simply have someone to talk to in school. How much more important is it for a child that is different to feel accepted. Regardless of age, appropriate social skills are critical when it comes to being accepted. Some people with autism have difficulties verbalizing their thoughts and being part of the group. They want to fit in, but often don’t know how. They may also lack the ability to read body language or pick up on social cues. Someone with Tourette syndrome may exhibit verbal or physical tics that could cause other kids to become scared or confused or just perceived as strange. A child that has a physical disability clearly stands out from the rest.
Promoting friendships amongst special needs and atypical children is not easy but is priceless for both children involved. One of the biggest obstacles in promoting such friendships is the social taboo. This taboo can be overcome by educating children about disabilities. Like everyone else, children are often scared of the unknown. When they are unfamiliar with children who suffer from disabilities, they are more likely to shy away from them.
Acceptance begins at home, as parents, we have many teachable moments, including the lessons of tolerance and compassion. Rather than shun the person who is different, educating all children will promote tolerance and acceptance of the differences between them. Another important part of promoting friendships between special needs and atypical children is to try and treat all children as equally as possible. Every child is different and requires special care in one way or another, but it is important to avoid calling undue attention to these differences. By treating the children, the same way as much as possible they will feel as though they belong to one cohesive group, rather than feeling as though they are two groups of children merged together.
There is one thing that may need to be addressed—attention. Children with special needs often require more attention than an average child, which can make the typical child feel left out. This feeling of isolation may lead them to act out, either by ignoring the child receiving the attention or by misbehaving to compete for the attention. If both children can participate in the activity, for example therapy, games, and baking then it is best to include everyone, even if it is geared toward one child or another. This inclusion helps build relationships and promote an understanding between the children. Once educated, children are often forgiving of the differences in others.
With the proper knowledge and the right amount of attention, all children will learn how to build lasting friendships with one another. My children, like all children with special needs, are gifts to this world. They are sweet, loving, nonjudgmental, and pure —qualities, we want all children to possess. While they have other traits that prevent them from fitting in as easily as most children, it doesn’t make them any less special or less deserving of getting the most out of life and being treated with respect, compassion and dignity, like everyone else