The mother of Max, a boy with cerebral palsy, asked in her blog, ‘LOVE THAT MAX: A blog about kids with special needs who kick butt’, “What should replace the term mental retardation?”.
Her questions started me thinking about all the names I have heard attached to those whose gray matter doesn’t meet most people’s standards of normal. Feeble-minded, moron, idiot, imbecile, mentally retarded, and most recently, developmentally delayed. I objected when the term developmentally delayed started to be used, as it seemed to offer an unrealistic hope that given time enough, the child would reach a normal level. Some did, but many didn’t.
Each of these labels has eventually garnered negativity. My solution has been to settle on a generic word “challenged.” I just started a Challenged Children and Adults Board on my Pinterest site. Go there and you will see pins from Max’s blog, one of a legless boy Cody, one of a Down’s Syndrome boy who was voted prom king, and a blog about fat kids. You can also go to the How We Grow and Change board to read some blogs posted by adults challenged with various illesses.
The picture and story about Cody was published about five years ago. I went looking for an update on his web page, but it is no longer active. I hope he is alive and thriving. Maybe when he entered his teen years, he didn’t want to be a poster boy. The teen years can be particularly difficult for a challenged child. It may also be that his parents had to focus on other things. I was impressed that they were upbeat with his childhood and inspired many.
I also worry about such stories. Partly because the hope is false for many challenged children. I worry also because as children grow and do not outgrow their challenges, life gets harder and the stigma more painful. I think the stories written by the kids challenged with obesity make that very clear. I urge you to read some of them.
WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO?
If you have a challenged child, do everything you can to let your child live as normal a life as possible. Max’s mom is doing that, Cody’s parents did.
Expect life to get harder when the changing thoughts of adolescence cut through some of the denial that is childhood. Children tend to think what is is normal. Most adolescents realize that is not true and obsess about being normal or not normal and all that means. For adolescents who don’t meet their society’s norm, realizing how different they are can be a traumatic shock.
Prepare a challenged child by teaching self soothing skills, positive self talk that is grounded in reality. “I do the best I can,” is better than “I’m doing great.”
Connect challenged children with others similarly challenged and particularly with adults who have lived well despite their challenges. The web has become a great place for doing so.
It would help if all of us realize and accept these facts:
- No one is normal all the time.
- No one is normal in all ways.
- Normal varies from place to place and across the ages.
- The more one does not meet their culture’s ideas about normal, the more they will suffer personally and as a group.
- Stigma can be as much a problem as not being normal in one way or another.
If your child is not challenged be very grateful. You have been lucky or blessed and so has your child. Be grateful. Model kindness to those not so lucky or blessed. Make it clear that challenged children have enough burden without being made fun of or otherwise stigmatized.
Finally, challenge others who stigmatize difference and the challenges some face.