Frustrations of special needs families
Amanda Hall, Reporter
One of my biggest pet peeves is how random people approach families who have children with apparent disabilities and try to carry on a conversation about how they too know someone in a similar situation.
This act of assuming they can relate to the family doesn’t accomplish anything and should be avoided. Instead, give a simple smile and move on. Now imagine this scene:
A 13-year-old boy with Down Syndrome, and his family are enjoying a dinner out at his favorite Mexican restaurant. An older gentlemen with graying hair comes over to their table. He introduces himself and starts talking about the football team he coached in the good ol’ days. He goes on about the boys he had on his team and mentioned that he always made sure that boys like him were put into the games. He finishes his speech with, “They were the real heroes.”
To any other family, this encounter would feel strange, but to his family and many others like them, this is their normal.
Like his family, I have been in similar situations with my younger sister, who has Down Syndrome. Since she was born, people have felt compelled to walk up and tell us how their relative has impacted them and how they are the sweetest and are always happy, etc. My thoughts about these encounters are: “This is good and all, but I don’t really care.”
It baffles me that strangers will walk up and go on a tangent about someone they know who also has Down Syndrome. I understand that maybe they want to show they are open to individuals with disabilities. However, it is unlikely someone would act like that with someone who has a different disability, so why is it different with Down Syndrome?
If the purpose is to help the family or individual feel included, then they aren’t doing a very good job. Instead, it feels as if the person is generalizing all people with Down Syndrome.
One of the biggest misconceptions I hear is that individuals with Down Syndrome are “so sweet.” Yes, some individuals with Down Syndrome are sweet and kind, but like any other child, they can also be moody and throw temper tantrums. By generalizing someone with Down Syndrome as “sweet,” they are taking away all the aspects that make them who they are, tantrums and all.
Another common mistake made is talking to the caregiver as if the child could not understand. Though my sister may not speak clearly and in full sentences, she understands everything you say. It it condescending to speak as if she was not there.
So if you are wondering how to act in front of a family who has a child with Down Syndrome, just act normal. If you would not walk up to a family with an average 13-year-old boy and talk about that there, then do not do it to someone with Down Syndrome. Instead, smile kindly at the family and move on. Let them enjoy their dinner out.