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Special needs aren’t always immediately apparent Ryan looks completely normal. But he also loves to sing and dance. Quite often. In public.

One of my very best friends has a son who has special needs. His special needs cannot be seen, much like a heart condition. He is a lovable child with a huge heart. He enjoys a lot of the same things that most kids enjoy. He adores Scooby Doo, singing, dancing, and is learning to ride a bike.

Ryan is 11. He has gorgeous red hair and an infectious smile. Honestly, Ryan’s smile, even from a picture, can make me brighten even when I’m in the depths of despair. He is Amazing. You would be lucky to know him, trust me.

Ryan’s parents are also Amazing. I won’t get into details as to what they deal with on any given day, but parenting Ryan is not easy. There are a million decisions that need to be made every day, piled on top of a million provisions that need to be made. Parenting Ryan is above and beyond the call of average parenting duties.

Ryan has no idea what I’m about to tell you. This is really important. I need your complete attention.

When Ryan and his family go out in public, the differences in Ryan by looking at him are not immediately apparent. Other than the ginger hair, he is a strikingly handsome kid, and when he is walking alongside his mother or quietly looking at items in a store, his differences simply aren’t obvious.

Ryan loves to sing and dance, as I mentioned. Quite often, it makes no difference as to where he is, he will sing, and skip and play, as young children do, and enjoy himself wherever he is. Sometimes that is in a store, or a parking lot, or in line at the checkout. He’s a happy kid, period.

So when your child, who sees Ryan enjoying himself, nudges you to point him out, and you turn to your friend and do the same, his mother is watching you. You can either choose to make this an educational time for your kid and say something about not judging others, or you could point, stare and call Ryan weird. But know this: his mother sees you.

While her heart is breaking at your actions, know that while you’re getting a kick out of making fun of a child with special needs, you are hurting a mother who cannot say anything for fear of calling attention to your abhorrent behavior to her young and innocent son. She wants to protect him from this world of cruelty and people who judge based on looks.

Know that 2, 4, 10 years later, she still will remember your face, your glances, your words. They sting. Believe me, if I had been standing beside my friend that day, I would have discreetly said something to you that would ensure that you would remember my face, my glare and my words. So would your kid. He would hopefully learn that what the 3 of you were doing is very wrong.

You wouldn’t poke fun at a child with Down’s Syndrome, would you? You wouldn’t dare tell a man in a wheelchair that he can’t park in a handicapped spot, would you? Not all conditions are visible. Heart conditions, Tourette’s, mental illness, anxiety disorders, alcoholism, blood disorders, allergies…to name a few.

So next time you’re out and about and you see anyone, of any age, who is different than you, remember Ryan. Remember Ryan’s mother. Remember not to break her heart. She sees you.

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11 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">Special needs aren’t always immediately apparent</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">Ryan looks completely normal. But he also loves to sing and dance. Quite often. In public.</span>”

  1. LOVE this post… LOVE IT!

    Thank you for pointing out something that people often forget. We see you. And it hurts. And no matter what, it’s hard to take the high road sometimes. But we do it because we have to.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people treat other people that appear different than themselves. And by treat I also include the stares from afar, the laughing, the pointing. It hurts just as much as words do, and people seem to forget that.

    Ryan can come to Orlando and play with my boys anytime. I bet they would have a blast together.

    And that is something I would LOVE to see.

  2. Thanks for the awareness. My husband’s daughter Tracy is 34, severely hearing impaired, with other disabilities. Most times people are sensitive and kind to Tracy other times kids, innocently stare. Bringing this up is helpful, so parents will consider talking to their children and letting them know all of us are not the same. Thanks for the post..

    Dorothy from grammology

  3. It amazes me that people feel that it’s their business to know why ‘that’ child is dancing/singing or jumping or picking their nose? I am just wondering why commenter Elizabeth wouldn’t tell her son that it’s not nice to point and ask such a rude question (Personally I think it’s rude)? Why would people assume something is wrong with a child displaying happy behavior? And let’s say the behavior isn’t just dancing, let’s say it’s “different” than perhaps what your son would do, why does even that require people to stick their nose into someone’s private, personal business? I’m sure every mom who has a special needs child, doesn’t really want to get into the specifics of their child’s challenges while waiting in line at the supermarket. They probably have enough on their plate without being made to feel guilty that their son or daughter is “different”. It’s almost as if people are saying, “oh your child has a disability but it may be hidden, so you’d better explain him/her to me, so once I know your personal details, I won’t look down my nose at your special needs child and understand why they’re acting different”. Geez. First, personally, I would never assume something is “wrong” with a kid because they’re behaving that way. And really, is it any of our business why that kid is acting that way? Kids are kids, they do shit all the time whether they’re challenged or not. How about, we, as moms, stick together, give support, even if it’s a smile and a wink, just to let another mom know, that, OH I’ve had one of those kinda days too.

  4. That photo just melted me-it makes me furious that anyone would treat not only Ryan but Sassy that way. The people who point, stare, make comments she can hear-have they no sense of common decency?

    And now, as a parent, I’m curious-what would Sassy prefer people do in that situation? If her son breaks out into song in the checkout line or starts dancing in a parking lot, and my son is nearby and he asks me “what’s wrong with that boy?”, would it be okay for me to ask? Would Sassy rather educate people about her son, or would she prefer that people mind their own business? I’m asking because should my children ever encounter a boy like Ryan, and ask me a question about him, I want to know what would be appropriate.

    • Thank you all for your lovely compliments to Ryan and also to me. Elizabeth, that’s a great question and please don’t be offended by my answer, it’s not directed at you, but I want to make people understand that even those words, that particular sentence hurts. I’ll try to explain as best I can. Ryan’s ‘challenges’ are not particularly visible (and it would take me forever to list and explain all his special needs. He’s a complicated little boy and his challenges are sort of intertwined, so it’s not like I can say, ‘oh he’s autistic’as an example, and that would be enough of an explanation to satisfy a curious person. Plus, part of me wants to say, why is it your business, if someone asks that question or something similar). Should a person meet him, spend time with him, then perhaps you’d see that he’s not a typical 11 year old boy in alot of ways. Yes he’s different. That’s a fact. But don’t we all have differences? And to be honest, it also hurts if someone says, ‘what’s wrong with that boy’? What’s wrong with him? Why don’t I tell you what’s RIGHT with him, that’s what I’m thinking when I hear that. So I guess if another child asks that question if they should happen to see Ryan in public, skipping, dancing and singing, I would want their parent to say, ‘nothing, he looks pretty happy to me’.
      Thanks Elizabeth for asking that question, so I could explain how even that can be upsetting for a mom of a special needs child.

  5. I love seeing children having fun and doing what children do best: being themselves. Whenever I see a child who is dancing and singing (something I always used to do as a child), it reminds me that we don’t have to care what other people are thinking. I do smile and try to smile at the parents, too. And I often bring my husband’s attention to the revelry because I don’t want him to miss out on something so wonderful as a child who isn’t being told, “Quit that. Stop it. Just be quiet and still”–a child who is carefree at this moment. I usually smile at the parents to let them know that this is an amazing moment to be able to share in, one of utter abandonment and freedom. (How many of us get to feel that way anymore? It thrills to see it in someone else.)

    I hope the parents can tell that I’m enjoying the moment, not as in “Look at that kid” but really enjoying the child him/herself–and I’m probably lamenting the fact that I can’t just push my shopping cart out of the way and join in.

    I just happened to find this randomly, but I wanted to say to the parents of this child that, from what is written here, you have an amazing child. As an educator, it warms my heart to see parents who adore their children, no matter what, and watch out for them.

  6. Wow…killer post…I mean really…the biggest problem is that the narrow-minded idiots who point fingers and make comments probably don’t read blogs like this. A friend of mine who has a child with multiple special needs from birth wrote this amazing letter to friends, family, teachers, etc. explaining the specific details of her child’s symptoms. Like…yes, sometimes she might not look at you and respond to you when you say hello to her, etc. I thought it was helpful and very proactive.

    But that doesn’t help with the strangers who feel compelled to stare and comment. Your post made me think…and I think I will try to be more aware of when my kids stare or judge…instead of waiting until we get to the car to lay into them!

  7. Years ago when I worked in a daycare, we had a 4 yr. old little girl with severe autism. No speaking, no eye contact, arms flapping, etc. I learned so much by being one of her caregivers (and it took a long time to fully understand her condition), and I adored her gentle nature.

    When her mother finally was granted state money to pay for intensive therapy, she pulled her out of the daycare, but not before giving all of Katie’s teachers gorgeous throw blankets. Each one was embroidered with handprints and the words “Love, Katie”. Her mother was so happy that we treated her little girl like every other kid in the room.

    Now that I’m facing the possibility of having a “special” child, too, I also know the feeling of relief when someone treats my daughter like any other child out there, and the dark feelings that come when people see her as weird.

    Excellent post, Karen.

  8. Hi, some of you know who I am and some of you don’t. For those that don’t, I’m Ryan’s mom. What Karen wrote today made me cry. I cried because what she wrote was awesome and also because it’s true and because it does break my heart when people stop and stare at my child and I hear someone call him ‘weird’, or worse. I live this almost every time I go out with my son. He’s constantly jumping, running, skipping, singing, talking to himself, making ‘blowing up’ sounds, acting out little scenes from a Scoobie movie perhaps…my point is, he’s usually doing something. He’s got a pure innocence about him and he’s usually oblivious to the rude people that we encounter. I, however, am not. I see them like a hawk spies a rodent it wants to swoop down and eat. Do you know what it feels like to have people slow down, turn their heads, point and then overhear them say, ‘what a weird kid’? It’s like a sick churning in the pit of your stomach. I want to run up to them and tell them all the GOOD qualities my son possesses. He’s bright, kind, beautiful to look at, beautiful on the inside too, loving, sweet…the list goes on. Yes, he’s not at his grade level for most things. Yes he suffers from Selective Mutism (an anxiety disorder), yes he suffers from Integration of Sensory Disorder, yes he doesn’t eat ‘normal’ foods because of his tactile defensiveness, yes he deals with several challenges on a daily basis, yes he’s in a school that caters to his special needs, yes he’s biologically 11 but more like a 7 year old and even younger concerning some areas but does that make him less of a human being? Does that qualify him to have total strangers, usually adults, stop, point, stare and make hurtful, rude remarks? Absolutely not. He’s an amazing boy in many ways and he most certainly does not deserve to have people judge him based on watching him skip and sing to himself down the cereal isle of the grocery store. I can honestly attest to, anyone who’s ever taken some time to get to know Ryan, will tell you that his smile alone would melt the coldest of hearts. How would you feel if you overheard someone saying nasty remarks about your son or daughter? Pointed and stared? Laughed in a mean spirited way? You’d feel a knot in your guts, feel defensive, want to say something right back. Do you think because my child is ‘different’ that I don’t feel those things or that I deserve it for not having a ‘normal’ child? I do feel them and it does hurt. Maybe next time, if you see a mom out with a child that seems ‘different’, smile at her. You might just make her day a little bit easier.

    I appreciate what you’ve all written so far, and it’s nice to know that there are still nice, caring people out there. Puts a smile on my face

  9. Frankly if I saw an 11-year-old singing and skipping in public, it wouldn’t bother me. I’d sure prefer it to the obnoxious loudmouth kids (and their parents) whom I come across now and then. And I’d DEFINITELY prefer him to some of my neighbors. My street has two mental cases living on it (one a woman in her seventies, one a man in his sixties) and after a couple of decades of watching them twitch and listening to them scream random obscenities, young Ryan would be as rare and refreshing fruit.

    So what’s Ryan’s problem, if you don’t mind my asking? (I went to the linked site and just came up with a blank page, so if the answer’s there, I can’t read it). The description here just makes him sound a little young for his age.

  10. Excellent!!! Awesome!! I taught my kids from a very young age not to point, stare, etc. Compassion and tolerance is a big, big thing in our household and it’s unfortunate that it isn’t a bigger issue in most households.

    Kids can be very mean, that is said often, but in the situation you have described we can see clearly that for some kids this is a learned behavior not something that happens naturally.


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