By Judy Blake
Regardless of age, most kids want to be accepted by their peers. They want to have friends to each lunch with, invite over for play dates and talk to during school. In many ways, kids are just like adults. Most parents want to have their share of friends, be invited out and feel a part of their community.
But what do you do when you’re out with your children and you see someone acting differently? Do you assume that your child would never act like this? Do you believe the parent is doing something wrong? Do you go so far as to tell your child that something is wrong with “those people” and “we shouldn’t associate with them?” After all, they look typical. Why could this be happening? This is where the problem begins! We make judgments based on what we think we know and then pass those judgments on to our children.
We think we’re setting a good example. Sadly, this is not always the case. Sometimes we pass judgment before we have all of the information. I am the mother of two boys with hidden disabilities, now 20 and 17. I have had more than my share of strange looks, rude remarks and feeling isolated. Between the two of them, my children cope with autism, obsessive-compulsive Disorder, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, Tourette Syndrome and bipolar disorder. It is most certainly a complex mixture of issues to manage.
The behaviors manifested from these disorders are unusual. In a society where people judge by what they see, the inability to see the disorders my children have often leads to criticism.
Demonstrating appropriate social skills is critical to social acceptance. Children with autism may have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts and being a part of the group. They want to fit in but often don’t know how. They may lack the ability to read body language and pick up on social clues so their peers do not want to be around them.
You may wonder how someone else’s autistic child autism affects you. Recent statistics indicate that one in 88 children will be diagnosed with autism. This is an astounding number, and I promise you that there is someone in your community who is autistic. You may not see it,but it is there. Autism is a social communication disorder and no two people with autism are alike. It is a spectrum disorder, and the child or adult could fall anywhere within the spectrum.
A child who has Tourette Syndrome may exhibit verbal or physical tics, causing other kids to be scared or confused. A child who is anxious for no apparent reason or obsesses over minute issues is perceived as strange. It is often puzzling to see a seemingly happy child suddenly become sad.
When adults have hidden special needs, it becomes even more complicated. Society expects adults to behave in a certain manner, and when they don’t, they are perceived as rude, difficult or strange. Adults with hidden special needs cope with the same difficulties as children. But they experience a heightened pressure to perform in a way that is difficult for them. I’ve met so many adults who cope with everything from autism, anxiety, OCD and ADD. It can be exhausting to navigate their way through the adult world when society may not accept them. Yes—they may be different. But they still have so much to contribute to this world, and we should all be more tolerant.
Education begins in the home. As parents, you have so many teachable moments, and teaching tolerance and compassion is one of them. Rather than shun the person who is different, try to explain to your child that the affected person may be having a stressful time and can’t help themselves. Rather than criticize the parent, explain how some children have to be managed differently because the child has difficulty managing emotions. You can’t see why the child is different; you just know that they are different.
If you and your family are blessed with good health, be very grateful. This could change at any moment, and someone you love might now be the person with special needs. Wouldn’t you want your child’s peers to be understanding? Wouldn’t you want the members of your community to be more tolerant?
My children are gifts to this world. They are sweet, care about the well being of others and can be trusted. These are qualities we want all children to possess. While they have other qualities that prevent them from fitting in as easily as most children, this doesn’t make them any less special or less deserving to get the most out of life possible.
Judy Blake is the author of Judy’s World – The World of Autism through the Eyes of a Mother. Her story chronicles her life and that of her boys. Giving speeches for 10 years, she travels throughout the country and speaks to audiences of all ages. Speaking to students, teachers, corporations and community groups, audiences are taken on a journey about her experiences in raising two boys with hidden disabilities. To purchase her book or schedule her as a speaker, please e-mail her at email@example.com or learn more at www.judysworld.info.