: Despite efforts being made to integrate children with special needs into mainstream society, children and their parents say they still face difficulties when interacting with other families. Dubai
Don’t judge us--Parents....
Don’t judge us, say parents of special needs children
Parents of children of special needs speak about what bothers them
The role of parents in teaching their children how to behave properly and socialise with special needs children is a crucial step towards a better and more understanding society, Dubai-based psychologists and three parents of children with special needs said.
Parents, themselves, need to also be aware about the things they can and cannot say to parents of children with special needs.
Gulf News spoke to three mothers of special needs children about the challenges they confront on a daily basis. The stares, comments, and reactions they have to deal with, they said, is what disturbs them the most.
Having raised a child with a mental disability for 16 years, Heba Marrouf said she continues to face two situations that still upset her very much every time she takes her daughter, Areeg Ehab, out to the park, mall or any public place.
“When Areeg gets annoyed by the noise around her, she begins to scream and throw tantrums as a way to express that something is bothering her and when this happens, people around are quick to judge that we haven’t raised our child right and that we cannot control her. They never take a minute to analyse the problem and understand that this is out of our power,” she said.
Heba explained that she also has to put up with blame when meeting others in public.
“There are also times when people walk up to Areeg and start smiling and hugging her, and when she becomes excited and happy, they make comments that imply that I haven’t been giving her enough love and attention. This is a very wrong judgment because all our attention at home is focused on Areeg, leaving nothing for her siblings.”
Heba said people should stop blaming parents of special needs children and should instead be patient when they are around them.
Another parent, who has a 15-year-old son with a mental disability, said it saddens her when children choose not to interact with her son, Saif Al Tabaa, because he behaves differently and is in a wheel chair.
“Many children avoid interacting with my son because he screams and expresses himself differently and, because they are not aware of his situation, they tend to get scared, but it’s not really their fault. Parents and teachers should teach these children about our children and how to deal with them,” said Reham Gad.
It is common for people, said Reham, to stare and whisper behind her back when Saif starts screaming in public, which has forced her to keep her son at home most of the time to avoid hearing hurtful comments.
“When parents act this way in front of their children, their children will grow up to be the same,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone walk up and smile at my son and say hello. Being overly nice to me or my child usually means they are scared or worried, but I don’t mind people asking what’s wrong with him.”
‘Stage of acceptance’
As for Salha Al Reesi, a mother of two children with special needs, she said she has already reached a stage of acceptance because her children have proven to her that they can be as productive as other children in society but it bothers her when children say her child is disabled.
“People should not look at the differences because my children are not different and they can do what others can do in society.”
Dr Valeria Risoli, a clinical psychologist at Dubai Physiotherapy and Family Medicine Clinic, said that parents of children with special needs go through different emotional stages before reaching the final stage of acceptance, which is a long and very painful process.
“In the beginning there is confusion, lack of understanding and denial. It is difficult for them to accept that their child might have a life of struggle, a future that could be somehow limited and more difficult than for other children with no special needs. Some parents feel angry and resentful towards life or sometimes, unfortunately, towards their children,” she said.
Once their reality becomes their normality and they learn to see positive aspects of their life, they learn to be happy and satisfied again, she said, and this is why, when they are treated with pity and sympathy, it can be very offensive.
Pity and curious stares, she said, reminds them of the struggle and painful side of having a child with special needs when they want to be seen as normal. She also said that a very poor attempt to be kind can come across as a very blunt opinion about an aspect of life these parents don’t know, such as “I am so proud of you. You are such a great mum; I don’t know how you can cope with your child. You are so special”.
Dr Risoli said the only way to behave in a more normal, empathetic and less hurtful way is to be informed, to get in touch with children with special needs. “This really enriches people’s lives. It gives them a different and more realistic perspective on what having a child with delays and special needs means.”
“People should stop portraying special needs families as if they were given a gift. Having a child with special needs is not easy. Also, some children are aware of their condition and don’t want to be treated differently and some are not but are happy with their life so there’s no need to feel sorry for them.”
Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and managing director at Light House Arabia, said that parents should discuss disabilities and have awareness within their own family on how special needs children are different and how they are the same.
“Parents can do this by reading books, or doing activities such as tying a blindfold on their child and teaching them about what it would be like to be blind. Parents should ask the parents of the special needs child how they can be good to their child. They will be able to help them understand their child and what makes them happy or upset.”
She also said inviting the child with special needs over to play so their children can have more one-on-one exposure to the special needs child allows for better understanding, more familiarity, and deeper bonding.
“I think it is the responsibility of schools and families to teach their children how to approach and deal with special needs children who are part of their community, However, it is also the responsibility of the parents of the children with special needs to educate their community on how to best know and help their child.”
Dr Saliha said this could be done by encouraging the school community to engage in diversity education for students and staff, which includes not only understanding and accepting difference races and cultures but also those who have special needs.
(સંકલન --શ્રીમતી કિરણ અવાશિયા )