First things first: Staring's not nice!I didn't grow up knowing any kids with special needs other than Adam, a regular at a resort our families visited every summer. He was cognitively impaired. Kids made fun of him. I'm embarrassed to admit that I did, too; my parents had no idea. They were wonderful parents, but they never thought to have a conversation with me about kids with special needs.
Then I had my son, Max; he suffered a stroke at birth that lead to cerebral palsy. Suddenly, I had a child who other kids stared at and whispered about. And I so wished their parents talked to them about kids with special needs.
Because nobody got the parenting memo, sometimes moms and dads aren't sure just what to say. I totally understand; if I didn't have a kid with disabilities, I'd also feel at a loss. So I reached out to moms of kids with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and genetic conditions to hear what they wished parents would teach their children about ours. Consider it a guide, not a bible!
When Darsie sees kids (and adults!) looking and staring, it bothers her. My daughter doesn't feel bad for herself. She doesn't mind the brace on her foot. She doesn't feel sorry for herself. She's a great girl who loves all thing horses and reading. She is a kid who wants to be treated like any other kid-so what if she limps. Our family celebrates differences, rather than mourns them, and we invite you to do the same.
- Shannon Wells of Cerebral Palsy Baby; mom to Darsie, who has cerebral palsy
Related: I'm not the word police, but I'm asking you not to say "retard"
Play up what kids have in common 2. Play up what kids have in common
There will come a time when your young child starts asking you questions about why someone's skin is that color, or why that man is so big or that lady so short.
When you're talking to your child about how everyone is different and we are not all made the same way, mention people who have disabilities as well. But be sure to talk about the similarities, too - that a child in a wheelchair still likes to listen to music and watch TV and have fun and make friends. Teach your children that those with disabilities are more alike them than they are different.
- Michelle of Big Blueberry Eyes; mom to Kayla, who has Down syndrome
Help kids understand there are many forms of expression 3. Help kids understand there are many forms of expression
My son Benjamin makes loud, yelpy sounds when he's excited. Sometimes he'll jump up and down and flap his arms, too. Tell your kids that the reason children with autism or other special needs do this is because they have trouble saying words and this is how they express themselves when they're happy, frustrated or sometimes even because of how their bodies are feeling. It can be surprising when Benjamin is noisy, especially if we're in a restaurant or movie theater. So it's important to know he can't always help it, and that usually it's just a sign that he's having fun.
- Jana Banin of I Hate Your Kids (And Other Things Autism Parents Won't Say Out Loud); mom to Benjamin, who has autism
Know that making friends with a kid who has special needs is good for both kids 4.Know that making friends with a kid who has special needs is good for both kids
In 2000 when my son was diagnosed with autism, I had a very difficult time securing playdates for him. A lot of parents scattered, mostly out of fear and ignorance. It got back to me that one mom worried my son's autism was "contagious." Ouch.
Thirteen years later, I am so blessed to have a handful of amazing families who have embraced my son in a way that has been so beneficial to his social development. I get the chills thinking about it. The best thing a parent ever told me was how much my son's friendship meant to her son! That his connection with RJ made her son a better person. It was such a beautiful thing to say. When we first got that diagnosis we were told he'd never have friends. The friends he has now would beg to differ. It was their parents who facilitated these friendships, and for that I am forever grateful."
- Holly Robinson Peete founder (with husband Rodney Peete) of the Hollyrod Roundation; mom to RJ, who has autism (that's him above with his twin sis, Ryan)
Related: The stuff we never expected to love about our kids
Encourage your kid to say 5. Encourage your kid to say "Hi"
If you catch your kid staring at mine, don't get upset-you may worry he's being rude but kids do check each other out. Yes, pointing is obviously not the best manners and if a child points at a kid with special needs you should tell him that's not polite. But when you see your kid looking at mine, tell him that the best thing to do is to smile at him or say "hello." If you want to explain further, tell your child that people with special needs don't always respond the way we expect, but it's still important to treat them like everyone else.
- Katy Monot of Bird On The Street; mom to Charlie, who has cerebral palsy
- By Ellen Seidman
For 7 more things special-needs parents want your kids to know, visit Babble!
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Ellen SeidmanEllen Seidman is a mom to two kids, and occasionally her husband. There is no mistaking the love and emotion in Ellen's words about her son, Max, who has cerebral palsy. While writing for both Babble Voices and her own blog, Love That Max, Ellen demonstrates that a mother's love knows no boundaries - and teaches readers that "normal" is what we make it.