Sunday, May 11, 2003

Alive and well

All kids deserve special treatment . . . sometimes


Parents of kids with disabilities have often asked me, in one way or another, "What would you tell your mother that she did best or worst in raising you as a kid with a disability?"

Whether I'm addressing parents, grandparents, teachers, or kids, of course, is considered before giving my answer.

More or less, though, the honest response is: "The best thing she did was never giving me special treatment." And "The worst thing she did was never giving me special treatment."

One of two things often happens within a family containing a child with disability. The child with the disability is either singled out in such a way that he is overprotected, spoiled, the object of so much attention and affection that siblings grow up in the shadow, feeling discounted and maybe resentful.

The other extreme

The other extreme is also a frequent scenario. The disabled child is seen as the disruption, the nuisance, the damaged package, possibly even the catalyst for breaking up a marriage.

Like so many things, the healthiest approach to nurturing a child with a disability lies somewhere in the middle ground.

Every child (and adult) wants to feel special, valued, viewed as extraordinary in some particular way. A child with a disability, who can pretty much count on sometimes being marginalized, discounted, even metaphorically (if not literally) spat upon by others, has a tremendous need for such individualized attention.

On the other hand, the greatest "crime" committed by the child with a disability, in the eyes of the perfection seekers of the world, is that of being different.

The longing to be "just like everybody else" is a powerful one indeed, sometimes outweighing even the specific needs created by disability. Each child wants to be like her peers.

The whole concept of "inclusion" in our public schools is to allow children with disabilities to blend in, receive the accommodations necessary to level the playing field, be lost in the crowd, and be counted as just one in a class of 20 or 30 equals.

The standard to strive for, then, is to treat each child as rare and unique some of the time and, at other times, to squelch the desire to protect, coddle and, consequently, segregate only the one who is different.

Any mother knows this is a tall order for all of us; when one child needs more due to disability, the challenge looms more ominous.

There is possibly no harder job on earth than raising a child. Despite all efforts to balance, there are probably moments in every family where one sibling says to another, "Mom liked you best."

If I could have designed my own childhood, I would have changed some things, left some others alone.

My personal formula

I'm pretty sure, though, that having a mother who sometimes treated me like a rare being, distinct from all others, and sometimes like just any other kid requiring no special attention, would be in my formula.

That's the kind of mom I pray that I am. It's also the kind of mom I suspect I sometimes fail to be.

Mother's Day, as we know it, is 95 years old today.

Besides celebrating and honoring our own particular moms, I'd like to think that those of us who are moms might reflect on the importance of treating each child as sometimes special and sometimes not. I'd also like to think that those of us who have moms be tolerant when our own moms miss - or missed - the mark.

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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