Special Needs Parenting :: Keeping Our Kids Safe - by Carey Nelson Handley

All parents who are truly committed to their children’s safety teach them basic skills to help them navigate the world around them. Young children enter the world trusting people but, as we adults have grown to realize, not everyone or every situation should be blindly trusted.

Gradually, we teach our children about Stranger Danger and they begin to have the capacity to assess situations and act accordingly. Many children learn to grasp this concept in their early years but for those of us who have children with Special Needs including cognitive issues, this is more abstract and much harder to understand so we often have to act for them.

I remember when my daughter was about nine years old and riding her scooter down the block with me following her slightly behind. When she was close to the corner, I saw a car with four young adults stop at the intersection and pause to watch my daughter as she approached. They stayed at that intersection longer than they needed to as there were no other approaching cars. My daughter was oblivious to being watched but my mother’s instinct kicked in and I hurried towards her to make sure the occupants of the car knew she was not unattended. As soon as they saw me quicken my step, they left in a hurry. There’s no telling whether they meant her harm but it was one of many times my heart skipped a beat. For that reason, she is always at my side when we are in public.

Because of my daughter’s cognitive challenges, I don’t leave her alone in the house, even if I’m planning a short trip to a store. I’m not at all worried that she will do something drastic in the house but I am concerned that if there was an emergency, she would not have the presence of mind to know what to do. Being very friendly, it also concerns me that she may open the door to strangers, even though we’ve told her over and over again about Stranger Danger. When she sees me greeting people in the community or at networking events, it makes it hard for her to understand why it’s okay for me to talk to strangers but it’s not okay for her.

Naturally, every family is different and all Special Needs do not look alike. Some families like mine are able to leave their children home alone because their child’s development may be very different than my child’s. When I’ve been shamed for being “overprotective” by well-meaning friends, I try to remember that they are not the ones living in my shoes or making decisions for my child. For me, the fear of making the wrong call by bending to peer pressure could have disastrous results and that makes it the correct decision for me.

When in doubt about how to handle the issue of personal safety with a child, particularly a child with Special Needs, checking with professionals who know the child is one way to understand how a child’s limitations affect his or her decision-making skills. That’s exactly what we did after I was chastised for being overprotective. The response from all five professionals let me know we were making the right call for our daughter. But, truthfully, it shouldn’t have come to that. Deep down, most of us have great instincts about our own families and that should supersede anyone telling us we’re wrong.

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