Building a Relationship with a Special Needs Child


Experienced parents share their thoughts on good ways to approach children with special needs.

Talk to the child

Speak directly to a child who has special needs. Look him or her in the eye (but be aware that people who are autistic
or have Asperger's syndrome may find eye contact uncomfortable). Speak clearly to a child whose hearing is impaired, but do not shout - it can interfere with hearing aids. Engage a child with disabilities in age-appropriate conversation. Don't talk down to the child in a silly manner. Even if she cannot answer you, she feels your tone. If you do not get an answer from the child, smile and change topics - for example, say that your name is so and so and that you really like the child's cool shoes. Respecting a person with special needs is appropriate behavior. Don't ignore the child while you discuss her condition with parents while she is right there, listening.

Include the child

Children with special needs - and their parents - feel sad and hurt when they don't make it onto birthday party lists or doesn't get invited to play with your child. It is challenging enough for a disabled girl to know that she is different from most kids around her. Excluding your relative or friend's daughter from normal childhood experiences adds insult to injury. Think of her when you plan for special occasions, or any time. Include her in your own children's activities. She may not fit in perfectly, or participate in activities in a typical way, but don't worry that she may spoil the party or ruin a playdate.   Accept a boy or girl who has special needs as is and you are likely to find his or her presence a rewarding experience.

Siblings should be seen and heard

Other children in the family of a child with special needs can be loving and helpful, but siblings may also feel jealous of the attention that their disabled sibling receives. They may wish to be sick too. They may act out. Or they may worry about their special sibling's health, or their parent's ability to cope, and act "too" good and helpful. Having an unusual brother or sister around can be embarrassing. Siblings can feel resentful.

Accept any of these reactions as normal and okay. Listen with love. Show appreciation for every child in your friend or relative's family for being who he or she is.