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The loving ways of a special needs child

What they teach us

The loving ways of a special needs child can teach us a lot.  Sometimes they may take things literally and help us realize that we must be clear in how we speak. Other times a special needs child may teach us to appreciate everyday or take life less seriously.  Some fortunate folks in our community get to work with this population everyday and took the time to share about the intrinsic rewards that their job offers.

(When a special needs child succeeds, the feeling of accomplishment is often contagious.)

When you work with special needs children for a long enough time, you may not even realize that they have separate needs. “I have been working with special needs kids for over thirty years so it is a way of life for me; I do not think that special needs children are different than any other child,” says Rhona Hanshast, director of United Cerebral Palsy Association Preschool’s Early Childhood Center in Brewster.  When asked to define a special needs child, unique needs may not even come to mind. “They are basically children who want to play and have fun,” she says.

Rewards outweigh challenges
Obstacles are par for the course.  “Some days are more challenging than others but the rewards definitely outweigh the challenges,” says Caren O’Brien-Edwards, community services coordinator at Greystone Programs in Poughkeepsie. Challenging behaviors go hand in hand with a person who has limited communication skills because it’s how they express their frustration.

These actions are also the toughest part of the job as therapists want to help kids communicate effectively.  “We use a lot of picture icons, the iPad and some individuals use various communication devices that they receive from school,” says O’Brien-Edwards. Those who work with kids with special needs are kind, dedicated and patient people. “For most people in this field, it is something we are passionate about,” says O’Brien.

Patience and gratitude
Self-discovery plays a role. “I have learned a great deal of patience and to appreciate all the wonderful things I have in life as well as not to take everything for granted,” notes O’Brien. Being in the presence of a child with special needs can bring on an instant change of outlook.

“Everyday I have a smile on my face from just hearing them,” says Jodi Rubenstein, community services coordinator for Greystone Programs in Sugar Loaf.

Feelings are contagious
When a special needs child succeeds, the feeling of accomplishment is often contagious. “They are special people and when they make progress we all feel good because we all made a difference for the child whether it is a teacher, therapist or maintenance man,” says Rhona Hanshast.

Our emotions are contagious as well. V. Mark Durand writes in Optimistic Parenting, “Behavioral scientists discovered sometime ago that human emotions are contagious. This means that if a person approaches another person with a sad face and speaks in a slow and depressed tone of voice, the other person is likely to start to feel sad as well. The opposite is also true; one person can pick up another person’s happy demeanor.”

Not to judge a book by its cover
Kids with special needs should be warmly accepted and not singled out. “They are people with special needs but first of all they are children who want to play, have fun and do all the things that the other kids do,” says Hanshast.
In some aspects the kids are extremely bright and in other aspects they have deficiencies,” Rubenstein notes. Unfortunately, this causes the kids to be misun- derstood at times.

Remember that every child has strengths and weaknesses and special needs kids too can shine. Rubeinstein reminds us that awareness is key, and to “never underestitimate somebody with a disability.”

Jamie Lober writes frequently on parenting topics for Hudson Valley Parent magazine.