Love That Max's Ellen S.: When you know that a child has special needs, do you feel like you have to treat that child like he or she is ... special? I'm here to say, please don't.
I'm mom to Max, who's 7. He has cerebral palsy, which affects his ability to talk and use his hands. The cerebral palsy does not affect his sense of humor, his eagerness to play with other kids, his love for ice cream, his curiosity about the world. The cerebral palsy does not make him an angel boy, either. He has meltdowns when you don't buy him a toy he wants; he's been known to hit when he gets mad; he pulls his sister's hair. In those ways, he is also a kid just like any other kid.
But that's not always people's perception. Some see him as a kid unlike any other kid. I've had people ask if he likes to play with bubbles and Matchbox cars -- as if he were playing-impaired. I've had mothers ask if he ever fights with his sister -- as if he were incapable of sibling rivalry. I've had mothers say things to their kids (in front of Max's face) that are along the lines of, "Honey, you can play with him; just pretend he's like a baby," -- as if Max were deaf. Once, a stranger remarked, "Oh, that's so great he likes ice cream!" -- as if Max's disabilities affected his potential for pleasure and joy.
I know that people don't mean to be mean-spirited when they say these things. Often, they are trying to be inclusive. But in the process of doing so, they end up making Max seem like an "other" -- as in, a kid who is not just another kid. And they teach their own "typical" children the same.
My son has special needs. But at heart, he is not special. He is a kid just like any other kid. Can't you treat him that way?