Today, Janis over at Sneak a Peek at Me blogged about Teaching your Children about Differences. Sadly, this post is rooted in an experience she and her son were affected by today. During a trip to a local zoo, several children stopped and stared at her son. Their parents did not seize this opportunity to teach their children about differences. So she’s blogging about it to bring attention to this serious issue.
I agree with her.
As the mother of a special needs child, I have had to field questions about my own daughter. But my daughter’s issues are not clearly visible to those around us. So the challenges I face are different. It’s when my daughter speaks that we get questions. You see, she was born with a cleft palate, recessed jaw, and a floppy tongue (glossotopsis). This is officially known as Pierre Robin Sequence in her case because there are no other genetic syndromes along with her diagnosis. She’s had six surgeries, the first one at just 9 days old, the most recent one just over a year ago.
Her speech, while improved, is far from the normal expected speech. We have to constantly remind her to speak slowly. To enunciate. And yes, my four-year old KNOWS what the word enunciate means. And I know way more about speech therapy than I ever imagined I would when I started down Parenting Lane.
Our daughter tries her best. She does get frustrated because she’s terribly bright but more often than not, her ability to use her voice and words gets in the way of what she wants to share with us. She gets worn out and doesn’t want to try. Sometimes it’s hard for us to understand her. And sometimes it’s hard for others to understand her. She worries about being teased. And it happens. Someone asks her a question, they can’t understand the response, and voila. We get a question.
While it’s not the same as Janis’ situation, I understand the basic emotions. Immediately I worry they won’t understand or that they’ll make fun of her. The only place I’ve had to field an insensitive comment about her condition has been from a fellow kid in her special needs pre-k class. And I answered it appropriately. I seized it as a teachable moment by explaining to this child that issues with speech were what Charlotte needed help with because of the way she was born. But that she was trying her hardest at making her speech better each and every day. The child nodded and went back to his coloring. Charlotte shot me a grin (she had overheard the child’s question) and went back to her coloring as well.
It is important to us Charlotte understand how she was born. That she know we are not ashamed of it and she can do whatever she wants to do with her life. We celebrate the smallest of achievements – like this year – on her fourth birthday? She blew out the candles all by herself for the first time EVER. The first time she blew up a balloon? Squeals! Bubbles? Lots of squeals!
She did not start talking until she was nearly two years old, maybe even older. We talk with her a lot about her speech and why she has problems with it. She openly shares with us when she’s frustrated with it and we work to heal those frustrations together. She’ll be starting a regular pre-k program later this summer and is very worried about other kids making fun of her. I’ve been making sure to sit down with her to talk about her options if that happens. She’s getting very good at asking questions and opening up with us about her worries and concerns. I’m happy to see this development because it means I’ve done my job right in being open with her about what’s going on in her life. I know there are more battles down the road. Right now though, I’m building the base of a very strong building for my daughter. I want her to stand tall no matter what comes her way. I want her to know she’s perfectly okay the way she is because GOD made her that way. That we love her no matter what.
And if we see someone different out in public and one of the kids say something, we are down at their level immediately, explaining to them that GOD makes everyone different, that some of us may need extra help but that’s okay. We tell them we should love everyone the same, be polite to everyone, and that pointing and staring is not okay. We tell them that people who are different are still people and want to be treated with the same compassion, respect, and dignity as everyone else. So far the kids are doing great with this. I hope this is a lesson they carry with them for life and infuse into their own children’s lives. Because acceptance and compassion are half the battle in being the bigger person.