Thursday, February 9, 2012

theotherlion: making friends

As parents, we all want to see our children make friends. When we discover our children aren't typical, we start focusing on therapies, school, and even just surviving the day. But at some point, we sit and watch our precious child shake two wooden spoons in front of his face for twenty minutes and wonder if there's another child in the world who would understand this behavior. And then you eventually meet another parent of a special needs child and find your answer -- yes, someone does understand! Unfortunately, many of those people exist in a land called The Blogosphere; it is likely you will never step foot in each others' homes.

And even if they did live next door, one reality would still have to be faced -- the world isn't filled with people who are exactly like yourself. It's filled mostly with neurologically and otherwise typical individuals who don't get it when a seven year old slaps his mother across the face when she asks if his head hurts or when a little boy at a play group melts down because the lights are too bright and starts throwing toys like snowballs.

It's tough being the parent who's constantly running interference, whether it's because of behavior difficulties, language boundaries, or navigating basic social interactions. It's a constant game of interpreting, prompting, and redirecting, but we do it because we hope for a connection.

I recently read a status update from a fellow parent of a child with fragile x syndrome. She relayed her heartache over a conversation with some children in her child's daycare who said they didn't like her child because they think her child is mean.  I've been there, and it hurts. "He's weird." "He's mean." "He acts funny." "Why does he do that all the time?" "I don't like him."

As parents it is our job to advocate for our children, to be the ones running interference during play dates. As educators, it's our job to foster an environment that feels safe and loving. It's our job to listen for the cues that a child is at risk for alienation and try to stop it; it's our job to teach tolerance

It begins with our own attitudes, with the verbal and non-verbal language we use while talking to and about challenging children. I'm guilty of the eye roll, too, I am. I'm guilty of walking in and thinking, "I can NOT do this another day" and letting it affect my approach to the class. We've all been there, and we can all probably do better.

What I suggested to this parent was that she sit down with the teacher and let her know about this conversation and her concern over her child's acceptance. And then I would expect the teacher to do something about it, even if that meant having a talk with the entire class. Here's what have said in response to preschoolers questioning me about my son: You know how you're super smart? Well, he's smart, too, but it takes him longer to learn new things. He has trouble using his words and making friends. But you can be a good friend to him and a helper to me by showing him how to make good choices.

I've also fielded a lot of questions about sensory integration techniques such as therapeutic brushing. The easiest way to answer, "Why does he do that?" is to simply say, "It helps him to feel better. It helps his body feel calm."

When we make a point to include each student by giving them all a space to sit, acknowledgment of their feelings, and a purpose in the class, it helps reinforce the idea that each person is valuable -- that you, the teacher, likes each one of them. Now, as for what I will do when he's in high school, I don't know. Hopefully he will be among classmates who have been a part of an inclusive classroom.


My name is Erika and blog over at theotherlion about my son, Punkin, who is seven and is diagnosed with fragile x syndrome. I have been a ParaEducator with children who have special needs for seven years.


  1. explaining "tough subjects" to students is an art, isn't it?! their inquisitive questions sometimes catch me off-guard...i like your response "it helps him feel better" since so many of their peers don't understand their disabilities.

    "tolerance, tempered with kindness, and a consideration for the needs of others"---

  2. Joanna -- And it's true, I mean, some of the stuff he does is pretty goofy. It's a legitimate question to ask why someone would want to sit upside down all day. :) It IS an art to find a balance between honesty and respect.

  3. This is such a thought-provoking topic, and I love your suggestions. "It helps him to feel better. It helps his body feel calm" is a wonderful response to help classmates understand the behaviors of many children with special needs. I love when classmates develop compassion and empathy because of sensitive teachers like you. I pinned your post to my Special Needs Pinterest board at


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