I like introducing Sadie to new people. She's cute and she's the love of my life (besides my husband and this belly bean growing inside me), and I want to shout it from the rooftops that I have a special needs child. But, I've noticed that people don't always know how to react when they first meet her. Heck, I'm not sure always how to react when I first meet new children who have special needs. So, I want to give you a few tips and pointers when meeting children with special needs for the first time...
First, always remember that every child with special needs is unique and different. Just like their fingerprints are one-of-a-kind, so are their needs, their personalities, and their reactions to certain situations. If ever in doubt, ask the mom (or whoever the caregiver is at the time). You don't have to feel like a jerk because you want to know if it's okay to touch the child, some children might be super sensitive and react negatively to being touched on the head, on the hand, etc. Sadie loves to be touched, she likes any attention really. If she were a typical two-year-old, she would be that one who is instantly your best friend and pulls you to her room to show you all her toys.
And don't think it's rude to ask if the child can see you. If the child is sighted or not makes a huge difference in how you should approach them. A child who is blind, or mostly blind, might be shocked by a touch if they don't know it's coming or don't expect it. Speaking first to a child who is visually impaired is helpful. Sadie will sometimes "look" at someone, but she's not really seeing them. Or, if the person is talking to her, sometimes she'll turn her head so she can listen. She knows you're there, she just might not acknowledge that with a visual response. Don't always assume because a child isn't "looking" at you that they don't know you're there.
Depending on the child's age and ability, try to engage them in a conversation about something they like by asking questions. Even if the child does not answer, the parent or caregiver who is with them will appreciate this, and probably answer for the child. When a new person treats my child like a child, and not an alien-being, I'm always impressed. This might be as simple as telling her she has on a pretty shirt/dress, or that she has lovely hair. You might ask her a question based on the setting in which you meet her... "are you watching Sesame Street?" "Are you gonna go swimming today?" etc. And with Sadie, if you want a smile, your best bet is to tell her what a pretty girl she is, or what a pretty dress she's wearing. She eats that stuff up!!
If you are unsure about anything else, compliments are always nice...but make sure you direct them at the child. "What a big boy you are!" or "That is a pretty flower in your hair!" The biggest thing is to talk to the child. Say, "nice to meet you" or "I'm so glad you came today!" I think in situations where a child with special needs is severely disabled and you know they're not going to respond or interact with you much, it's okay to mostly interact with the parent/caregiver. But, remember, even if it looks like the child doesn't know you're there or what is going on, they probably do...and nobody likes to be ignored! Sadie interacts well, even if she can't talk. She smiles at you, and she'll lift her head to your voice, which makes this a little more intuitive.
I have been so impressed with society's shift in perspective about children/people with special needs. When I was a child, people like Sadie, and so many of her friends, were hidden. It was taboo to talk about them, let alone to them. Now, we integrate these children into society as much as possible. We talk to them, we talk about them, we acknowledge their presence. We put them in classrooms with all the other typically developing children, and we educate about their disability/condition/disease. I am so proud to be Sadie's Mommy, just like any Mommy should be proud of her children, and I don't plan on that changing anytime soon!!
|Mommy & Me #3: getting some lovin'|
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