First of all, let me just describe how a stranger may see Jassy from the outside looking in. They would see a beautiful and tall 11-year-old girl who doesn't exhibit the behaviors of what an "average" girl her age would be doing. Jassy does not make eye contact. She drools because she is a mouth breather, and has yet to master the concept of swallowing her spit. She loves to sing and make loud high pitched noises when she is happy. Jassy will also make angry noises when she is upset. This also includes fits of biting and pinching herself and others in reach. Of course those events happen randomly depending on where we are, and the noise level.
The initial thing everybody does is stare. They stare at the uncommon behaviors and try to figure out what is going on. You'd be surprised at some of the looks that we get. Keep in mind that body language is 90% of how we communicate with people. Some people will give us "angry" looks. Almost like why did we bring her out. As her parents, my husband and I have learned throughout the years how to brush those things off. Initially, however, it was very difficult to even bring ourselves to go out at all.
The best thing to do in a situation where you see a child that is blind or has other special needs is be kind. Try to be as empathetic as possible. (I can assure you that the parents have enough stress as it is.) That starts with your body language. You can look, but don't stare.
I understand a person's need to figure out the unknown. One of my favorite ways for people to approach us is when they say something like, "What a beautiful girl! How old is she?" Instead of sparking up a conversation based on what is different about her, I appreciate the regular questions that everyone else asks about any other kid. Anything along the lines of age, name, grade level, etc. That not only breaks the ice, but gives me a way to introduce Jasmine. Then, in my own way I can explain her differences.
Sensitivity for Jassy in particular, because she is blind, starts with people acknowledging her whenever they are around her. She can hear you, but most people tend to just ignore her. Loud noises bother her so it's awesome when there's music playing and someone goes and turns it down. That helps her to not get overstimulated. Descriptions of what is going on around her also help her to understand different situations. The more we can expose her to, the more she will learn.
I hope that I have in some way helped shed some light on the topic of sensitivity towards people with special needs. The situation for these families is already a difficult one. A road less traveled so to speak. My goal is to spread awareness and lift the stigma of the special needs community. The more we know, the better equipped we will be to handle different situations.
Houston Associations for the Visually Impaired:
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