“Your son needs discipline.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from the mouths of people who don’t understand that my son is special needs and developmentally delayed. It’s even worse when family members who are supposed to understand because of their professional training in this area tell us the same thing. He doesn’t appear to be special needs on the surface, so they automatically believe that he isn’t.
Yes, I agree. My son needs discipline, but his meltdown right at this moment isn’t because of his lack of discipline! He is confused and frustrated because he can’t communicate exactly how he feels. It’s frustrating and sometimes embarassing when my son has a meltdown in public. But the stares and angry looks are the worst. I’m not a perfect mom, but I do my best. I know that what they see is not a true reflection of my son.
When he’s not upset and frustrated, he is a very loving and well-behaved, albeit mischievious, little boy. Yes, I am biased. I can’t help it!
I’ve come up with some creative ways to respond to the peanut gallery when my son has a meltdown.
- Ignore them
- Stare back and glare
- Make comments under your breath hoping they’ll hear
- Announce that your child is special needs and would they kindly stop staring
- Explain what meltdowns are with special needs children as you follow them around the store (or wherever you are)
- Scream at them to stop staring
Of course some of the ideas are silly, but sometimes I feel like doing them. At some point, all parents with special needs children will come face to face with insensitive people while your child is having a meltdown. Yes, average kids have meltdowns but they generally do so because they aren’t getting their way or are extremely tired or hungry. These can be reasons for special needs children to meltdown as well but sometimes they meltdown because they are frustrated or confused and that is the difference.
Our therapists have suggested going down the list of items that cause a meltdown and try to rule out each one as the cause of the meltdown. In my son’s case, he tends to meltdown more when he is exhausted and hungry. This leads to confusion and frustration when he can’t communicate either to us. It tends to escalate from there. Because he needs bouncing or some sort of sensory trick to get him to calm down, we usually bounce him on our knee to get him to start breathing normally again. We become a human swing or have him “fly” as superman in order to pull him back from the brink.
Whatever you have to do to get them to calm down, you’ll still have to deal with those people who don’t understand what is happening. How you choose to respond is up to you and what is most comfortable for you. I don’t recommend confrontation but anytime you can educate someone about what your child is dealing with is a step in the direction for understanding. There are still a lot of people who don’t believe that special needs children can contribute to society. I believe that each child is unique and a blessing. These are our children and they will always be special to us.