I’m sure I stared at her with a deer-in-the-headlights sort of look as she spoke, “Your son is just awesome! He is talking so much and is so smart!” Of course, these are all things that I know to be true about my son, but hearing these words from another human being about my son who has autism is definitely rare. I fought back tears as the therapist helped my son into the car after a long day at the clinic—I’m not even sure I responded appropriately to her kind words.
You see, I’m not used to these comments. I have seen frustrated glances and shoulder shrugs. I have had multiple conversations with educators about all the things my son can’t do. The most cutting remark was a therapist who blankly said, “I just can’t do anything else with your son until you medicate him.”
Unfortunately, these are the things that most parents who have a child with special needs are used to hearing. There is a constant dialogue between parents and caretakers regarding their children with special needs, and sadly, the conversation is often centered on areas of difficulty. Parents become beaten down and discouraged. That’s why I was so shocked when my son’s new therapist complimented him. She saw his strengths and made sure to let me know—it meant the world to me.
This is such an important thing to keep in mind for anyone working with those who have special needs. You need to understand what families like mine are used to. Most of all, you need to understand the power of a positive word.
Positivity is Powerful: If you are working in a special needs ministry or just happen to have the joy of knowing a child who has special needs, you need never underestimate the power of positivity. Every child has a set of God-given gifts and strengths. Look for ways to delight in the wonderful things they can do! In a world of negativity, this will fuel the hearts of both the child and their parents. In a case such as ours, it gives hope that others see glimpses of what we see when we look at our son.
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” Proverbs 12:25
Positivity is Contagious: This summer my son began therapy at a new school where he is surrounded by people who cheer him on and celebrate his strengths. And guess what? He rises to the occasion. Certainly, he still has struggles, but in an atmosphere of encouragement he works hard to overcome the obstacles of autism. We must remember that children who have special needs, although they may not verbally acknowledge other’s comments, still understand what others say about them and even how they feel about working with them. Your positivity will greatly influence the trust and relationship you build with a special needs child and their family. Positivity is contagious; spreading from child to family with your ministry as its source!
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thess. 5:11
Positivity Does Not Mean Masking the Truth: When working with those who have special needs, truth and trust go hand in hand. Just because you encourage and focus on the positive aspects of a child, it does not mean that you should neglect to share with a parent any problems that arise. Often, parents are trying to work on medication changes or therapy changes for their child. Your input is important if there is an area of trouble. Sharing hard truths in love, covered by the positive things you see in their child, will make all the difference.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Ephesians 4:25
Positivity is powerful and can be one of your greatest tools when working with those who have special needs. It makes a difference in the life of a child. It makes a difference to families just like mine!
Nichole Huggins is a wife and mother of two. As the parent of a special needs child, Nichole willingly discloses the trials, triumphs, and life lessons of having a child with autism. She writes at www.LoveinaDifferentLanguage.com where she offers insight and hope as she shares about parenting, autism, and the faith that holds it together.