A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor, Brandee, stopped by with a gift for me, to encourage my writing. She stops by from time to time, usually with hand-me-downs for my boys, but this was the first time she brought Emma, her daughter.
After a few minutes, Emma got curious. I’m sure she knew of Alex and Ben because both of our families have lived in the neighborhood for over 10 years, but she hadn’t spent time with them before. Alex and Ben have Down syndrome, and Ben has autism, hearing impairment and health problems as well. As Emma started noticing the differences, she started asking questions. Thankfully, without any previous discussion, Brandee and I were just on the same page, and we both listened and gave simple, straightforward answers to her questions. Emma settled right in with the boys, fully at ease, and I suspect that honoring her curiosity is the reason she became so comfortable so quickly.
In light of that, I thought I’d share my observations of what went right that day:
- First and foremost, nobody got embarrassed by the questions of a child. Children should be inquisitive!
- Brandee asked questions too. By joining Emma in her questions, she modeled appropriate dialogue.
- Emma learned that there are some ways my boys are different, and many ways they are like her.
- We kicked the elephant right out of the room. It’s uncomfortable when nobody is willing to address the obvious, so by getting it into the open, everyone was more comfortable.
- We all learned to trust each other. I learned that Emma was happy to accept Alex and Ben, and she learned that differences and asking about them are not problematic.
- We had a few laughs.
- We found out that even though Emma is short, Ben is even shorter, even though they’re the same age. I think Emma liked that.
Emma was kind and polite, which made it easy to answer her questions, but I would argue that if she was rude or mean that it would be even more important to show her acceptance. After all, it’s obvious that Emma has a mom who is raising her with acceptance, but if she hadn’t been shown by her parents it would be all the more important for me to demonstrate it for her.
Whether you have a typical child or one with special needs, whether your child asks considerate questions or is awkward and blunt, it’s up to us to model acceptance, both of the special needs, and of the questions.