My Son Isn’t Sick. He’s Different and So Are You

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I’m calling you to action today.

“He came up to me and said, I know all about your son’s sickness,” said my friend whose son does not have a sickness.  He has Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.  It is part of who he is.  He is not sick.

She said, “What if he learns he’s autistic from a kid at school and not from me?”

Stunned, I paused, I’d never considered the difficulty of

1) when to tell your child his “label” (which should be her decision)

2) helping other families and children understand your child’s & his or her differences

SO . . . how do we answer questions about differences? How do we talk to children about others who have special needs?

Everyone is different.

Will you do me a favor?  Will you start talking about how everyone is different — with obvious things? My wonderful blogging friend and mom to a child with special needs, Barb, suggests you say things like:

“Look at them they’re different, they wear glasses.”

Look at me, I’m different, I have a mole on my face.”

Barb’s son is in a wheelchair.  She could then say to him, “Look at you, you’re different, you’re in a wheelchair”. Won’t it be easier for him now that she’s pointed out how everyone is different, not just him?

Will you take a moment and talk with your child about what makes him or her different? (Feel free to substitute special for different if you prefer.)

Barb says, “It’s just a way of thinking differently – some of us are good are math, some would rather play sports, some want to draw.

My kids grew up with a friend in a wheelchair.  Chloe couldn’t talk or move her body but she could smile. We were lucky to know her and my kids learned from an early age how everyone is different. Did it matter that Chloe was physically so different?  No.  She was their friend. She died a few years ago but my kids still talk about her and things we did together.

Here are some special needs book suggestions from Disaboom.  Will you read one with your family this week?

You might want to read this Children’s Hospital article talking about kids who might need extra help.

Will you do it?  Are you with me?

Let’s start the conversation.


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  1. Wow, Jeri, that is true! I interviewed Tim Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics, this past weekend and he compared not talking about differences to the Emperor’s New Clothes and called it a recipe for exclusion. I agree and feel like we need to talk about this issue, not ignore it, especially with the kids who are typically developing and may not know and want to know.

  2. Thanks for the post. I remember when our daughter was born with down syndrome that one of my most overwhelming emotions the first few hours of her life was wrapped up in a question of “How would everything ever be all right again?” Or — would we ever feel a state of normal again? What a wonderful gift she has been to our family. As we immediately began to love her and her uniqueness, we realized that “normal” was an illusion! Everyone has different strengths and struggles, and that’s just the way life is. People who don’t understand that are disabled in their own way.

  3. Thanks for posting this. As a teacher currently staying home with my little ones, I have been on both sides of the “difference talk” experience. My son spent years being painfully shy (looking at his face during those moments I could see the pain he was feeling) and has begun a slow movement toward sharing more of himself with others. So many people would stand in front of him and ask me what “his problem” was. Remembering my own painfully shy moments of childhood, it’s difficult to be a graceful adult and inform them that he is just having a shy moment, and that it was perfectly fine with me. We all have special needs of our own to make it through each day – some are just more obvious than others.

  4. This is a great post. I visited my son’s 2nd grade class a few months ago to talk about autism, and it was amazing – the kids are so curious to know what the real deal is, how they can help be a better friend, and they asked wonderful questions. It’s the adults who usually seem to have a problem!

  5. I remember talking to my classes about handicapping conditions. After a few minutes I’d announce that I had two plastic teeth in front–that always was a conversation stopper. I told them all the ways growing up I had to do things that others didn’t because my teeth came out if I didn’t–I was different.
    Kids would sputter and play “yes but,” and as the conversation started again it often reached a different level.
    What is different? What is a handicapping condition? What matters? Should it matter? When does it matter?
    These really are important questions to address. It’s like addressing question of food intolerance. It’s very important for me to know the ingredients in prepared foods since I’m gluten intolerant. That makes me different from someone who isn’t gluten intolerant