I took my three kids (2 are typical, one has almost invisible special needs) to a theme park last week. As we were walking some park employees started to close a gate and told us we had to wait a bit before we could proceed. There was a young man standing next to me who asked his mom if it was a train or a carriage that was coming by. She said she didn’t know. He started watching a video on his phone to pass the time. I could tell from his posture and his speech that he had some special needs and since I deal with kids with challenges at home and at work I was fine with it when he leaned over and showed me his screen. “See, ma’am?”
His mom’s eyes widened. As she hovered, ready to jump in and steer him away I let her know with my smile that we were just fine. “It’s Wicked,” he explained. I commented on how great it was, and answered yes when he asked me if I had seen it.
He was sad because it was closing soon so Phantom of the Opera could take over the theater. He asked if I had seen that show and I told him yes, back in my hometown of New York. I told him he should go see that show, too. His mom jumped in and told me he wouldn’t let her take him because the show is too loud. I agreed it is loud but it is worth it. The carriage passed, the gates opened, and she hurried him away…but I wasn’t finished talking to him!
I wanted to tell him about Phantom and about the tricks of stage special effects. I wanted to suggest that he bring sound-dimming headphones. I wanted to tell him about how live music changes the air around you so you actually feel it, not just hear it. I thought he might be interested in the plot about someone who hides himself away because he thinks the world isn’t ready for him and his talents.
But I understand that mom. She was protecting her child, and she had no way of knowing that he didn’t need to be protected from me. There have been many times when I stand just off to the side while my child interacts with strangers. Usually they have trouble understanding her, so I jump in to translate and then step back again unless I am needed. I want my child to be independent, to initiate social interaction and to make her own way in the world – but some people in the world can be harsh.
Occasionally I have caught other kids rolling their eyes or exchanging looks then scurrying away to play on another part of the playground. Once I even caught a girl making fun of the way my child was talking – so I headed right over to the grown up who was allegedly watching this child and explained about my child’s disability and what had just happened. She was horrified and the girl got quite a scolding, which was not my intention! I just want people to be educated and to stop making fun of others…but in the age of reality tv and cyber bullying that may be an impossible dream.
So where is the line? Do we hover constantly or do we turn them loose and wait for the consequences? Of course the answer is different for each child. I only know the answer for my child – I have been letting her figurative leash out little by little. When she was younger I always remained within earshot, but now I am okay with letting her be only within my sightlines. I have to trust the people at her school to respond appropriately if an issue comes up, and ultimately I have to trust her. My child is going to have some rough times, and I can’t hover her through all of them. They will be stepping stones and learning experiences, and they may involve tears and disappointment but that is all part of parenting.
Of course sometimes people with special needs don’t interpret situations correctly, which is why I still hover. I am sure it is why that mom at the park was hovering. For some great activities to help kids with special needs with social interactions, check out this article from the Friendship Circle’s blog.