Special Needs Parenting :: Why I Introduce My Child This Way - by Carey Nelson Handley

When I know I’ll be introducing my daughter at networking meetings, to clients or others, I always include that she has Special Needs. How we present our children is a controversial subject with parents of children with Special Needs. Many disagree with me and their reasons are valid. We shouldn’t have to include this in our introductions. Our children are children first and the rest should be inconsequential. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way.

The truth is that we are a judgmental society. The conventions of how someone looks or presents themselves does seem to matter and our children appear unconventional, regardless of their capabilities. A friend of mine says she has it easier: her daughter has a condition that makes her disability visually apparent while mine looks neurotypical. My daughter’s Special Needs are not physical which creates a dichotomy apparent during conversation and not at first glance.

I’ve been on the receiving end of confused glances from unknowing strangers when they try to engage her in conversations and I’ve watched their faces fall when the realization hits that what lies on the outside does not reflect what lies on the inside. Some do a better job of covering their facial expressions when she utters something younger than her physical look and chronological age or when doesn’t understand what she is being asked. I’ve watched her confusion when the questions posed by others go beyond her comprehension or comfort zone like the woman who asked her where she’d be going to college as she insisted that everyone should go to college. Clearly, the woman didn’t realize until afterwards that she was making my daughter feel uncomfortable or that my daughter began to question why we were not sending her to college because, after all, “Everyone should go to college.”

Perhaps it is for my own protection more than hers that I offer the Special Needs descriptor up front. Maybe I’m saving myself from those tough conversations or backward glances from people who don’t know her incredible heart or compensatory skills. But, clarifying this up front has led to greater understanding and more sensitive conversations. People are kinder to her, give her more leeway and tailor discussions for her speed and ability. I don’t have to see the confused looks from people who are expecting a certain level of conversation rather than the one they get when asking seemingly innocuous questions.

I shouldn’t have to but I do. Whether it’s for her or for me, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that by doing this, people seem more likely to find a middle ground where she can feel part of the conversation. While protecting her I am also protecting myself and I’ll continue to do it this way until society catches up to us.

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