We are making progress but we have a long way to go before people truly “get” special needs children. It’s time to bust some myths. Here are the three in most desperate need for busting.
1. Behavioral problems are due to bad parents who make excuses.
I suppose this is a vestige of the way people used to think, before scientific advances, much like people used to think that sickness was caused by demonic possession or the presence of bad gases. Children with special needs, be it autism or ADHD or Asperger’s, etc., cannot control their behavior the same way that children without these special needs can control their behavior. That’s why a specialized program, like ABA, is necessary to assist them. However, many people with special needs are routinely stigmatized, punished and criticized for their actions or behavior, in school and out, by insensitive people who think their “normal children” are due somehow to their good work. They are wrong.
There is the unbelievable story that Stephen Covey used to tell about this guy in a subway car who sees a man with two children, and the children are misbehaving. They are running around the subway car, making noise, climbing on seats, and the father is sitting there doing nothing. The man gets irritated and finally says to the father, “Hey- why don’t you control your kids?”- thinking he is the worst parent ever. The father says, “I am sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. The kids’ mother just passed away and we are all a little emotional.” In other words, don’t project your own biases on special needs families. Seek to understand, instead.
2. Normal hurts.
Just because they are tough as nails, just because they are strong as steel, does NOT mean special needs families are not sensitive. They are. They have every right to be. I have seen this at play most frequently in the language that people use about children on the spectrum. We have thankfully moved beyond hurtful and inaccurate terms like “retarded” and “slow.” But I still hear references to “normal children,” which suggests children in the Spectrum are not normal, or abnormal in some way. I have two problems with this. First, what is normal? The numbers of diagnoses in the spectrum are so high that trying to come up with a definition of normal is impossible. More importantly, though, there is a difference between unique and atypical vs. abnormal. There is a qualitative judgment with the inference “abnormal” that suggests special needs children are somehow less valuable than others. As anyone who has ever loved one, or known one, will tell you- that is just not true.
3. Children with autism are not reclusive geniuses.
This is another big myth- the idea that children with autism can’t make eye contact, but can count 600 matches in 5 seconds. Children on the spectrum are as loving, as affectionate, and as creative as anyone else. Period. Some are very comfortable making eye contact and engaging, while others are not- much like everyone else. According to the National Autistic Society, one in 200 people in the spectrum has a unique gift (I don’t have research, but I imagine that’s about the same as everyone else).
As awareness increases, I want to see these myths disappear, just like we no longer believe that a cat has nine lives or there’s a man on the moon. Every day, our magnificent families with special needs and my dedicated colleagues in ABA are chopping away at these misconceptions one at a time! Join us! What are some other misconceptions you want to correct?