My younger brother, Amir, is a compassionate, kind, silly, rule-following, Hot Wheels-loving, resilient 20-year-old, and he happens to have autism.
When my children were much younger, they didn’t notice that their uncle had special needs. I figured that since they grew up with him always being around, that they may never question his differences since that’s all they knew of him. That was pretty naive of me. Things got a little challenging when they reached an age where their maturity matched (and soon surpassed) their uncle’s.
I remember sitting them down to talk about Amir’s special needs and his diagnosis. He also has Language Based Learning Disorder, Borderline Intellectual Functioning, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
There were a lot of questions, and I made sure to answer all of them with honesty. We talked a lot about just having patience and throwing in a little bit of grace. But we also talked about respect. Amir is their uncle and an adult. They needed to be reminded that they should show him the same respect as they show other adults, even though Amir’s maturity level isn’t always that of a typical adult.
Seeing beauty in the differences of others really needs to begin at an early age. You can begin by celebrating the differences within your own household. Then, when you’re out in public with your children, be sure to provide good examples of engaging with everyone. I remember one specific time that we were at a restaurant, and my daughter was staring at a child that was in a wheelchair. At the time, my daughter was in kindergarten. My first thought was to whisper, “Stop staring!”, but instead I looked over at the child in the wheelchair and noticed she had a set of pink wheels. I smiled and said, “Wow! Look at your pink wheels – those are so fancy!” The look on my daughter’s face changed; she was excited and interested, and the tension lifted.
As long as we can continue to have an open dialogue with our children about the beauty of differences and be leading examples of what it means to be compassionate, we can raise children to embrace and celebrate all the differences in our peers.
It’s important to have children around children and adults with special needs. There are many places you can get involved with in our area. It’s fun to volunteer with your children and has been one of the best things I continue to do with my family. We always leave feeling inspired and grateful. It gives a greater sense of togetherness and provides ample opportunities for teachable moments and opens up an important dialogue.
You can also encourage your children to invite a child with special needs to their birthday party or a play date. Imagine how beneficial that would be for both children.
Lets be honest, we all know that children can say embarrassing things at times, but remember other adults are aware of that and it’s okay. Often times, the awkwardness can be resolved with a simple apology and quick explanation. Remember, that grace I spoke of earlier? Sprinkle a little bit of that down here as well.
April is National Autism Awareness month. You can find more information on how to get involved by visiting autism-society.org.
How do you mamas respond to your children when they have questions about people with special needs?
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