Working with a special needs child is one of the best real life experiences you can have. I will not tell you that it is always sunshine and butterflies because it can be stressful; however, underneath all of the stress you learn amazing lessons and have loads of fun.
1. How important it is to follow directions.
Whether it be directions on how to give the correct amount of Ibuprofen or directions on how to make a flower out of Play-Doh listening to directions is key. Think about this for a moment, they wouldn’t have given you directions if it didn’t matter how it was done. The children I have worked with rely on these directions so that they do not get sick, do not get hurt, or worse whatever that may be. It is not only them that rely on directions though; we rely on them every day. How to cook pasta. How to bake a cake. How to do our jobs. We would be lost without them.
2. It is never a bad idea to pack a spare change of clothes.
It has been much to nice this Summer to have stayed inside all day but it has also been much to hot to be outside for two long; unless you are in a pool or on a beach. If the words five year old and water table are in the same sentence you are bound to get wet and believe me I learned that the hard way. The lesson here is that you never know what will happen to you and you never know when you might need a change of clothes. Luckily I had my gym clothes in the car and could change. Luck of the draw I guess. One thing is for sure, I have had a change of clothes with me every day since then.
3. How to see the world differently.
Just because we see a square as a square does not mean it isn’t a rhombus if you turn it on its side. Children with special needs have a different brain function than those of us who do not. When you work with these children you have to open up your mind to their perspective. It is all about perspective isn’t it? I will be the first to tell you that it is not easy but I will also be the first to tell you that it is worth it. I promise. Yes, it helps you understand them better but it also helps you understand people in general better.
4. It is OK to look like a dork if it brings a smile to someone who needs it.
Sticking with the idea of perspective, everyone has bad days but for many children with special needs saying they had a bad day is an understatement; you really should be saying they had a terrible day. If your baby brother or sister was crying in the middle of the grocery store and you knew doing a really stupid dance would cheer them up wouldn’t you do it? You wouldn’t think about how you looked until you stopped and then you would feel like a complete idiot right? Let me tell you a secret, it is completely okay to do that. In fact, I do it all the time. Making someone who is having a bad day happy brings you a since of joy that you cannot get anywhere else and it is worth it. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the number of times I have gotten that “oh my god, how old are you?” look from someone buying bananas because I did something stupid to make my client happy. I would do it again in a heartbeat though.
We have all seen the way some people look at the kids who yell really loud in the stores or have to use a wheelchair. Is it nice? No. Is it necessary? No. Trust me when I say that no matter how young those kids are it affects them. They cannot help it, it is just who they are. Work with a special needs child for one day and you will see how little compassion is left in the world. Seeing that really brings out your sense of compassion and let’s be honest here, isn’t that what we all need?
6. You are never too old for Barbie.
Barbie dolls, Barbie movies, Barbie everything. Don’t laugh at me when I say this but you can learn a lot from the Barbie movies. We never noticed growing up how great the lessons in those movies are: friendship, family, believing in yourself; all amazing things for kids to be learning. As for the dolls part, well, it is using you imagination and we seem to lose that as we grow older and let’s be honest girls we all still love our childhood Barbie dream house and would give anything to live in one just like it.
Lastly, you learn patience. You have to be patient with kids without special needs but even more so with the kids that do have special needs. Yes they will jump from one thing to another. Yes they will scream at you. Yes they will tell you to go home seven hundred times a day. It is all of those things that make them who they are though. It is all of the little things that do that drive you crazy that make you love them. I know being patient is not an easy task for anyone but these kids will teach you that it is very worth it.