E is entering that age when other kids around her definitely notice that she’s not like “the rest of us.” In her first ballet class last week, I noticed that when the teacher asked the kids to hold hands, one little girl around E’s age didn’t want to hold her hand and yanked her little fist away.
Little kids notice much more than adults give them credit for; I feel like I can say this because I used to teach preschool and kids would come and tell me all sorts of things about home/parents that I’m sure their parents didn’t even realize that they were noticing. I feel like in a situation like E’s, it would make the most sense to explain in simple terms exactly why she doesn’t act or talk like maybe some of our other friends do. I always encourage parents to take the proactive approach in teaching their kids about the differences with special needs kids because the more we normalize that different is okay the easier it will be on our kiddos who aren’t completely typical. Not only that but I think it nurtures a sense of compassion and awareness in little humans that will only continue to grow as they mature.
Anyway, I had the most amazing conversation with a dear friend of mine the other week. Her son comes and plays with E occasionally and I guess one day he’d gone home and told his mom that sometimes he couldn’t understand what E was saying. My friend didn’t ignore his comment or just sweep it under the rug with a passing “Oh really?” Instead, she took the moment and made it into an incredible teaching experience.
Friend’s Son: Mom, sometimes I don’t understand E or what she’s saying to me.
Friend: Hey, you know what? You know … we all have something that’s hard for us & that we’re learning to do better, right? For you, it’s basketball that’s a little hard right now and you’re working on. For your baby sister, it’s walking that’s hard for her to do. For E, her hard thing is talking. She’s learning and working on it just like you’re working on your hard thing.
Whaaaaat? I was blown away when she told me this little story. To her it was probably just another parenting moment in her family but for ME, as the parent of a special needs daughter, I almost could have kissed her right then and there. I absolutely loved the way she clearly explained to her son the challenges that my daughter faced and that she did so in a way that he could understand and also sympathize with. Seriously, if I could give a little gold star for Parent of the Week or something, I would!
Sometimes I get discouraged raising a daughter on the spectrum. As my daughter gets bigger, she’s probably going to rely heavily on the acceptance and understanding of her peers. Yet, I’ve met my share of parents who unfortunately seem more focused on teaching their kids to be me-me-me-centered rather than cultivating compassion and kindness in them. But then I hear amazing stories like this one from my friend and I feel encouraged. Isn’t it crazy to think that you, as a mother, can spread grace and encouragement to special needs parents like me simply by having fruitful conversations with your little ones?