Few adults would intentionally act cruelly towards a child who is handicapped in some way. Yet even among caring adults there is a tendency to treat kids who have some sort of disability differently than we otherwise would. The end result is often the same: Through body language and other subconscious cues, we send the message that these kids aren’t the same as other kids. Many people simply withdraw or keep their distance from a child with a disability, unsure of what to do or how to interact.
Take the hearing impaired, for example. Describing the frustration she feels over how people relate to her two deaf sons, one woman says, “You don’t have to know sign language (to interact). Kindness is a language. We all understand it. When you see a child like this, don’t act shocked. Don’t gasp and walk away. The message you send to a child is: ‘My god, you are a freak!’ Reach out your hand and smile.” (Chicken Soup for the Couples Soul, Health Communications, 1999, p. 211)
The same principle applies to children with any type of disability. Talk to a child with Down syndrome in the same way would to a kids who’s at the top of his or her class. Find ways to involve children with physical disabilities in the same type of sports and gross motor activities you might play with a child who had no physical restraints. Relate to children with autism as if they are social butterflies just waiting to come out of their cocoon (with realistic expectations and adequate patience, of course).
Not only does this ensure that every child develops to their fullest potential, but it can prevent many of the hurts these kids endure that we never meant to send. Because no matter what the circumstance, there’s pretty much one universal thing that kids with special needs can all agree upon: They don’t want sympathy. They don’t want you to feel sorry for them, and they certainly don’t want you to act bothered or appalled by them. They just want you to act normal, so that they can feel a little more normal and accepted themselves.