Thursday, September 12, 2013

Addressing the issue of childhood cruelty in the special needs community

The other day, a friend mentioned that having a child with special needs would always be accompanied by the concern that the child would be made fun of by the other children.  In this day and age of bullying, I would refute that such concerns are not exclusive to parents of children with special needs.  We all know what it feels like to be teased, taunted, and ostracized socially.  To some degree, this is a truly unfortunate "rite of passage" that is associated with growing up. 
 
My heart aches to think that either of my children would be subjected to cruelty from her peers.  However, I'm not na├»ve enough to think that I can fully protect them from it. 
 
Leanne was made fun of growing up.  She has been called a "retard".  She has been discriminated against and ostracized.
 Admirably, Leanne has exhibited more grace in those scenarios than most people would.  She has a remarkable ability to forgive and move on.  And the most beautiful thing about Leanne is, that she would never do that to another human being.  She is the least judgmental person I've ever met.  Perhaps witnessing the poise and tranquility Leanne exhibited in such situations has provided me reassurance as it pertains to my own children.
 
Another great source of reassurance for me is that things are different now than when Leanne was growing up.  Thirty years ago, people with developmental disabilities were clustered together in a special education classroom in a separate part of the school (or in some cases, in entirely different schools) than their typically developing peers.
 Today, individuals with special needs are integrated into the same classroom setting with their typically developing peers.  There is a huge push towards inclusion and mainstreaming.  As a result of these efforts, typically developing children are getting to know their peers with special needs.  Consequently, the fear and prejudice that result from ignorance and an overall lack of exposure is being replaced with an attitude of acceptance and an appreciation for the value that each individual brings to the environment. 
 It is my hope that instead of people saying "I don't know anything about Down syndrome because I've never really been around anyone with Down syndrome," they will instead say, "I grew up with a friend with Down syndrome named Josie, and she was pretty cool!"  I believe the impact of this could be huge.
In addition to the inclusion movement in an educational setting, today, acceptance of the special needs community is promoted by numerous non-profit organizations, news stories, popular music, and even blogs!

My mom and I were discussing how when we're out in public with Leanne and Josie, the overall reception is one of warmth and kindness.  If people ever stare at us, I honestly do not notice; but I do notice how people smile and greet my sister and my daughter.  (I also notice all the free swag Leanne scores because she's so darn cute and charming!)   

I've always felt like if people had a chance to really get to know my sister or my daughter, that any negative bias about Down syndrome would be replaced by a sincere appreciation for the character traits that make them such wonderful people.  The good news is that this is the direction we are moving in. 

Let's not forget that as parents, we can facilitate this process by the attitude that we project and the example that we set for our children. (More on this later...)

9 comments:

  1. I love this....I just wrote about our 7 week old and my fears about her not having friends etc. It's such a journey. My friend Jenny posted your link to my wall and this made my whole day. Thanks!
    Krista

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    1. My niece is 21 and has DS. She attends a monthly dance, special olympics, a cheerleading class,and the list goes on and on. The girl has WAY more friends than I do! Lol

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  2. Well said!! Times truly have changed over the years and I hope life for people with special needs just keeps getting better.

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  3. I needed to read this today. I feel like every FB post I read was about some child with Ds' hardships in school and I was freaking out. I was just talking to my sister about this today and how I worry sometimes about my daughter in school. But then she said the same thing you did that we were all made fun of at some point in school. I think what you said about children being more accepting now a days is totally true. I see my daughter's friends in preschool excited for her when it's her share day and only half of what she says is understandable. They don't care, she's just their friend. Most of those FB posts too, the ADULTS are the problem. If only we could get rid of them... :)

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  4. This comment is old, but I just had to share. You mentioned above the free swag Leanne gets. I have now experienced this. And I can only be glad that my older daughters were not there, because it was pretty good stuff. Teagan and I were visiting my family and I was shopping for some trinkets to take back to the older girls. The gentleman who runs the shop we were in came up to me while I was holding my daughter and pushed a mermaid doll into her arms. I'll admit, my first reaction was, great! Now I have to buy that! But he snipped the tag off the doll and told me he had worked with people like her for over 20 years. And he wanted to give her something special because she is so special. It was not the first time she has been given a lot of extra attention, but it was the first time someone came up out of the blue and gave her something pricey. And my oldest daughter, a huge mermaid fan at 12, was quite jealous! I had to explain that I didn't buy it and neither did grandma or grandpa! She sleeps with her mermaid doll and carefully brushed the yarn hair off her face if it falls forward. So cute. And the gentleman has a steady stream of shoppers thanks to my dad who was with me.

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    1. I LOVE this story! Thank you for sharing :-)

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