Having Special Needs Doesn’t Give Permission to Stare

Ever wonder what to say to the people who stare? To those who don’t understand your child’s special needs? To your favorite child who cries because he’s different from the other kids?

Former preschool teacher, Donna Goldman, of Lincolnshire, uses a scooter to navigate life with multiple sclerosis. Now that she’s officially retired from teaching, she wrote a children’s book, I Get Around in My Own Special Way, to help kids navigate and celebrate their special needs.

The book features an adventurous girl who enjoys life from her wheelchair, celebrating happy events and spending time with friends, but feels sad when people stop and stare. 

We had a few questions for Goldman.

What was your inspiration for the book? 

Having dealt with many physical challenges throughout my life, I – as a 70-year-old – had the words to deal with stares, but how does a child handle this who does not yet have the words to use? I wrote the book featuring what the child can do, how she is willing to help, and to acknowledge the many things that she can do with her friends in social situations. Showing the many ways people can get around has also shown how others deal with their issues.

What advice do you have for kids who are struggling because they feel or look different? 

Children want to fit in and be a part of a group – it gives them a sense of security and safety. When they don’t fit in, they feel vulnerable and different. Sadly, other children can often focus on that vulnerability, and that is cruel. Children need to be given or shown skills to help deal with the situation that they are facing. First, the situation needs to be acknowledged: if you need help, speak with someone you trust who can help you learn about and read the situation. Once you tell a child, ‘I am so sorry that you were made to feel sad, bad, etc.,’ the child will hopefully realize that you are on their side, and help can begin.

When speaking with the child, use a calm tone and positive words, which will give them another perspective, and hopefully feel less anxious and more in control. You can role play, and ask the child what else you can do to make it better. Find a way to make the child feel more in control and comfortable, and not compare himself to others. It can take many years, but you have to reach deep inside your emotions and be proud of who you are.

How has your special need affected your life in a positive way? 

I learned to be more patient with myself and others. I may not make a fast dinner, it will take a bit longer, but I am able to get it done. I have learned ways to cope and adapt to my situation. I kept dropping items while in my scooter and needed to ask others to pick them up for me. Once I began carrying kitchen tongs with me, not only could I pick up the items, I did it all by myself. I have learned not to let the situations that I cannot control consume my mind and to focus on the many activities and people I find joy being around. 

How does it feel when someone stares at you or ignores you because they think you’re different?

People are always going to either look and stare or act as though you are invisible. I wrote the book to encourage those who don’t yet have the words to deal with this to find their voice. If I notice someone staring, I will smile or wave hello, or offer to show the child how the horn on my scooter works, and usually all is fine after that. 

What advice would you give to people who may want to approach someone with a special need, but aren’t sure what to say? 

Acknowledgement and acceptance is what we all want, disability or not. When you look, maintain eye contact, and a wave or smile or thumbs up will do. 

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