When Your Child’s Special Need Is The Topic Of Gossip.

Parenting children with special needs brings about many challenges. In fact, there are days when it’s nearly paralyzing. But that is exponentially greater when you overhear others criticizing your child for something that is out of their control.

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I’m sitting in the bathroom stall sobbing. I’m pleading with myself to just get it together.

It all started an hour earlier at Meet The Teacher night. In the upper middle class suburban school district this is a crucial time. It’s critical to dress nicely, smile and for the love of all that’s holy, put on a little make-up! It’s all about first impressions and signing up for the PTA. You must remember all of your children’s supplies, labeled with their first name and last initial. Don’t forget the last initial! As luck would have it, 1/3 of the parents in the first grade were inspired to name their sons Jake.

Darn-it, I didn’t get to the classroom in time to be one of the room moms. Ok, I admit it, I hate being a room mom, but I do like to get there in time to sign up to bring little heart-shaped paper plates to the valentine’s party. A little commitment, but not too much. It’s a delicate balance. I always chuckle a little at this point in the new school year dance. I’ve caught myself again grasping for a morsel of suburban mom acceptance. I was silently chiding myself as I scurried to the 4th grade hallway.

Just as I was passing the other 4th grade rooms on my way to the resource room (code for Special Education), I heard my son’s name. I curiously turned to see two moms scrolling with pointed fingers down the class list posted on the door.  Mom 1 sighs with relief. “I’m so glad he’s not in my son’s class this year,” she says. Mom 2 leans in with a mock whisper and says, “Did you know he had to have a full time aide all to himself last year?” That’s when Mom 1 admits, “I checked all the class lists, he’s not on any of them.” My curiosity has turned to horror and now a fairly blinding rage. I can’t believe they didn’t see me standing there.

Just as I was about to storm their little gossip party, I veered left and into the girls bathroom.

That’s where I find myself now. Squeezed into a tiny stall, head in my hands, mascara running. I’m silently screaming my hatred for anyone ignorant enough to gossip about a 9 year old. Eventually my fury turns to bitterness as I think of the blissful ignorance of their gossip. My final emotion is sorrow, this is where I land most often as my son’s mother.

With my eyes squeezed shut, all I can see is the handsome face of my son. His protruding ears, endearing brown eyes, and deliciously sweet hugs. Will anyone ever see anything but his disability?

My son has ARND (Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorder). ARND is caused by fetal alcohol exposure. My son’s birth mom was unable to stop drinking while she was pregnant. The body of a fetus is not equipped to process alcohol like the body of an adult.  Therefore, my son was swimming in alcohol, deteriorating his brain before he even had a chance to take his first breath.

My son lacks a fully developed frontal cortex. He lacks the part of his brain that was designed for problem solving and cause and effect. In short, he is like a speeding car without breaks. His brain cannot communicate properly, so he feels emotions without an appropriate outlet and he has ideas without adequate problem solving skills.

I allow myself to cry a bit longer because this knowledge doesn’t change what those women were saying. It doesn’t change how others will see him. He will struggle his whole life. His brain will not ever heal. I dab at my now puffy eyes and remember his kind heart and his selfless generosity. I smile a little, thinking of the courage and bravery that he has in facing his challenges.

After splashing a little cold water on my face, I straighten my carefully chosen skirt and blouse. Finally, I exit the bathroom, clinging to the wise words of Taylor Swift, “Shake it off,” because I know that’s what my son will do.

Question: Have you ever overheard others gossiping about your children or your family? How did you react? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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  • Daddy Warthog

    It is heart wrenching to read this ma’am, truly. I will not pass comment on the moms that did this, as I don’t think it’s advisable to speak when so angry at such appalling behavior.

    Hugs to you and your son. You’re the only ones that matter and God bless you both.

    • Thanks for your support and kind words!

    • Kristin Berry

      Thank you so much for your support!

  • disqus_hoQDeqlnnr

    Very well written. I’m
    sorry you had to deal with the ignorance of others. While my son is not necessarily considered “special
    needs” (yet) he is very challenging and easily excitable. Last weekend, in a restaurant, I had to take
    him outside three times to calm him down.
    Every time I got up from the table I could feel eyes in the room
    starting at me, and I swear I could hear what they were thinking. It’s so hard.
    He is repeating 4K this year (he is 5) and whenever people ask about him
    starting kindergarten and I tell them he’s doing 4K again, I feel like I have
    to defend it somehow. Your son is lucky
    to have parents like you. He may have
    difficulty with problem solving, but he will learn compassion and
    acceptance.

    • Kristin Berry

      I know how difficult that can be. Especially in restaurants and stores! We had to keep our son back a year too. It was absolutely the right thing to do. Thank you for sharing your story! Good luck to your family.

  • Nora Matthews

    Man, it would be nice if people could regard a kid with special needs as more than a mascot or an outcast. It’s not fair or just and it speaks to the great need for advocacy and education. I feel like least restrictive environment practices have done a lot of wonderful things for kids but there’s long been a missing piece of helping a community develop the empathy and understanding that would help a kid who needs extra support– and the family loving him or her every day– really thrive. I remember that special education is truly a very young field, that my parents never saw a kid at school in a wheelchair, that there has been a lot of progress. But so much more needs to be done beyond schools and in communities themselves to reverse the prejudices and ignorances these kids have to grow up among.

    • Kristin Berry

      Nora,
      You are a true advocate. I appreciate your insight. Thank you for always putting your thoughts into carefully placed words.

      • Nora Matthews

        Musta been all that superior empathy training we got in girl scouts way back when. 😉

        • Kristin Berry

          Absolutely!

    • Truly great insight! Thanks!

  • Julie Long Matthews

    I do not know how I just saw this post. You know that I understand what you are going through. It breaks my heart for your children, just my heart has been broken when the same has happened to my son. All of your amazing children are so very blessed to have you two as their parents. All of your children (the ones that I have the pleasure of knowing well) inspire me in different ways. It hurts my heart when people miss out on the amazing person inside of the child that they are too busy judging.

    • Kristin Berry

      Oh Julie,
      I appreciate your friendship and support and love for my kiddos 🙂
      K