A Silent Lesson in Special Needs Acceptance – The Autism Whisperer
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A Silent Lesson in Special Needs Acceptance

Laura Behrendt

You just never know how your actions will impact others. Even 30 years later.

Many years ago when I was 15 years old I had a life changing moment. Although I didn't even know it at the time. I was at a very large mall back in the 80's and everyone came to shop there. It was right next to a couple of wealthy and middle-class burbs.

It was a lovely day and I was spending it with my best friend doing some carefree shopping and teenage girl bonding. We had stopped to take a break on a bench in a somewhat quiet hallway, when a mom at a nearby bench with two small children caught my eye. 

As I gazed upon the scene several things ran through my mind. First, this mom was very well-dressed and her hair and red nails done perfectly. Clearly she was a put-together lady. Then I noticed her children. Two girls, wearing identical outfits, pretty pastel spring dresses and flowered headbands. They were about two years apart in age. One girl looked to be about 4 or 5 and the other daughter looked to be around the age of 2.

The mom was arranging her packages and her shopping mall stroller that carried her younger child. I soon noticed that the younger daughter had down syndrome. But I was a bit bewildered as to why 'both' girls were so dressed up. Then immediately another thought crossed my mind, "Why did I think that??? Of course this other little girl deserved to be as dressed up as her big sister!"

I watched them for as long as I could, taking in the lovely scene of this wonderful mom doing her shopping with her two beautiful daughters. It made me happy to watch them and really happy for that girl with down syndrome. I am sure at the time this took place that this was an unusual scene. You didn't see disabilities in public very often, and acceptance was not so prevalent.

As she collected her bags to move on with her children, I thought to myself, "If I am ever a mom with a special needs child, I want to be like her! My kids will be equally cared for and equally loved. I will make sure of that!"

So now when I see or hear about a special needs mom (or dad) who really 'taught someone a lesson' by telling someone off in a store, or gas station, or restaurant. It really makes me bristle. Every single parent I have ever met with a special needs child wants other people to treat their child with understanding and acceptance. This effort in civility, tolerance, and acceptance also needs to be shown by the special needs parent as well.

The people we encounter in public are all fighting their own battle that we know nothing about. They have bills, fights with spouses, disputes with in-laws, death in the family, lost their job, are in a hurry, etc. They are coming from a different perspective and mindset than you are. They aren't in YOUR moment, they are in their OWN moment. So when they are caught off guard by something they don't understand or know nothing about, we can't expect them to always react the way we want them to.

If you are a special needs parent and someone treats you and your child with intolerance, and you react with intolerance, you aren't 'teaching them a lesson'. They already learned how to be intolerant.Try showing them kindness and tolerance and see what their reaction is. I guarantee you, when you leave someone else feeling better than before they met you and your child, you will see the value. 

And yes, I am a mom to a special needs child. I am forever grateful for that moment in I witnessed so many years ago in the crowded shopping mall. That special needs mom taught me a lesson without even saying a word. Just by setting a wonderful example of what special needs parenting can and should look like. 


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