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Ellen Seidman

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Ellen Seidman is a magazine editor, web content developer and award-winning writer. She blogs at 1000 Perplexing Things About Parenthood for Babble, as well as at Love That Max. Ellen lives in the New York area with her husband, two kids and assorted dustballs.

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What To Teach Your Children About Kids With Special Needs

By Ellen Seidman |

I didn’t grow up knowing any kids with special needs other than Adam, a regular at a resort our families visited every summer. He was cognitively impaired. Kids made fun of him. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did, too; my parents had no idea. They were wonderful parents, but they never thought to have a conversation with me about kids with special needs.

Then I had my son, Max; he suffered a stroke at birth that lead to cerebral palsy. Suddenly, I had a child who other kids stared at and whispered about. And I so wished their parents talked to them about kids with special needs.

Because nobody got the parenting memo, sometimes moms and dads aren’t sure just what to say. I totally understand; if I didn’t have a kid with disabilities, I’d also feel at a loss. So I reached out to moms of kids with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and genetic conditions to hear what they wished parents would teach their children about ours. Consider it a guide, not a bible!

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What To Teach Your Kids About Kids With Special Needs

First up, please don't pity me

Yes, at times I have a lot to deal with—but what I don't have is a tragedy. My son is a bright, funny, generally amazing kid who brings me much joy and who drives me nuts at time. You know, like any kid. Pity me and your child will get the idea that my son is to be pitied, not played with. Act like you do around any parent. Act like you do around any child.

— Ellen Seidman of Love That Max; mom to Max, who has cerebral palsy

Other posts to check out:

The 9 Habits Of Sleep-Deprived Parents

Utterly Crazy Mom Fantasies

• Read more from Ellen at her other blog, Love That Max

• Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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About Ellen Seidman


Ellen Seidman

Ellen Seidman is a magazine editor, web content developer and award-winning writer. She blogs at 1000 Perplexing Things About Parenthood for Babble, as well as at Love That Max. Ellen lives in the New York area with her husband, two kids and assorted dustballs. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ellen's latest posts →

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34 thoughts on “What To Teach Your Children About Kids With Special Needs

  1. heather says:

    thanks for the advice. i want my kids to grow up being friendly with everyone, special needs or not. bullying is so bad these days.

  2. Inna Trinidad (Kaleidoscope Toy Store NY) says:

    Great and much needed guide! It’s quite amazing how our life experiences become influential since the day we are born. Aside from educating your kids, some parents should take time out to teach themselves as well. After all apples don’t fall far from trees in most cases.

  3. Lauri Myre says:

    I would love to share this article with my son’s Boy Scout Troop, but can’t print in a one or two page format. The Scout’s have been working on their Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge, and I think this is a perfect tie in for the parents. Could you email a copy to me? I will give full credit to the source.

    My son has developmental and intellectual disabilities and autism, so by having the Scout’s earn this merit badge, they are also learning about my son as well as others in the community with disabilities.


  4. Karen says:

    What a spectacular collection, here. Thank you. Off to share it…..

  5. [...] Segue o link para o texto original em inglês:… -23.548943 -46.638818 Compartilhar:PinterestTwitterFacebookEmailGostar disso:GostoSeja o primeiro [...]

  6. Jodie says:

    thanks for this helpful and informative article.

  7. Church Avenue Chomp says:

    Thanks so much for putting this together! Great advice.

  8. Dawn Rose says:

    Great blog! Growing up I was lucky enough to have a wonderful, funny, caring, affectionate neighbor named Karen. Anytime I heard her cooing on her porch I’d run over and spend hours talking with her. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned she has Downs and had to live in a group home (which explained why I only saw her once a month when she came home to visit her family) Long after I moved out on my own, I was visiting my mom when Karen came walking down the street with her dad. She ran over to me immediately, have me a huge hug and, in so many words, told me how I used to be so small, and now I’m so big (it must have been 10 years since I had seen her) Her father looked at me and said “Dawn, you have obviously made an impact in her life. Most of the time she doesn’t know who her mother or brother are, but she knows you!” I cried. Maybe I did make an impact in her life, but she made an even bigger impact on me.
    Now that I am a mom of 2 young children, I encourage they spend time with everyone. I encourage they ask questions when they are curious. Sure sometimes those questions sting at 1st, but like ripping off a bandaid, once the initial shock wears off, all is well. And friendships grow instantly.

  9. Fabio Ludwig says:

    Hello, my name is Fabio Ludwig and I am father of a very special 1 year old boy: Antonio. He has a rare genetic syndrome, we live in Brazil and I’ve been also writing a blog (bilingual – Portuguese and English). I’d like to ask permission to reproduce this tips in a text of mine. No need to say I will give credits to this blog and also add a link to it. Actually I already have a link to Love That Max in my blog. Really inspiring posts there.
    If you will, you can learn a little more about Antonio here:
    And plese let me know if I can give these tips to brazilians readers too. They are very thoughful and valuable. Regards, Fabio

  10. Ellen Seidman says:

    So heartened by these comments, thank you! Dawn, LOVED hearing that story. Lauri, I do not have a copy to send, you’d have to cut and paste. Hi, Fabio! For copyright reasons you can’t republish all of the tips, but you can post one and then link back to this post.

  11. Louise Kinross says:

    Bravo to Ellen and all of the parents who shared their insights here. It was amazing to be able to see you all and your kids as well. I will link to this on BLOOM.

  12. Kate says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post! It is worth every bit of effort to copy/paste these pearls of wisdom into a document that I can refer back to as my girls (2 1/2 years and 8 months) get older. Both the junior high and high school I attended had programs that gave us the opportunity to be in classes with kids with special needs – let me tell you, I was the one who felt blessed and lucky to learn such life lessons from such sweet and lovely individuals.

  13. Tooner says:

    I really hate hate when parents stop their kids from talking to me and asking questions. Get this, I worked at a daycare and they said that I wasn’t allowed to talk about my dis/ability in a kid-friendly way because it was scary to kids. (I have cerebral palsy).

  14. Jane Schulz says:

    My son Billy, who is 56 years old, has Down syndrome. When he was about 3 years old his older brother Tom took him for a walk. When they returned I could tell something was wrong. When asked, Tom replied “Some of the kids were making fun of Billy and asked why he couldn’t talk.” With my heart in my mouth, I asked Tom what his reply was. He said, “Well I told them that some kids are smart and some kids are sweet and that Billy is one of the sweet ones.”

    Tom taught me that siblings can have more influence than parents have. Be sure that they understand the positive aspects of their family member who has a disability.

  15. Julie says:

    I agree with all of this! I actually polled a special needs group a few months ago and wrote a blog post about this very topic. It was interesting how similar they were!

  16. Jean says:

    As a mother of a child with a learning disabiility I appreciate your article because it is important to realize that whether you can see a disability or not we are all disabled in some way or another and all need to be treated with respect and kindness. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Please teach your children to look beyond the surface and find common ground with other children. Reach out to the child that looks lost and alone, who sits silently in the classroom and has no friends. Invite them to sit with you at the lunch table, introduce them to your friends. Invite them to your home or your party and treat them with kindness and respect no matter what their appearance. If you teach your child these things he/she will do well in the world.

  17. Mary says:

    Parents really have to be educated because whatever knowledge they have is somehow transferred to their kids. I’m a Nigerian and kids with special needs are not given adequate attention, so the Kids are always indoors. This topic is really an eye opener on how to relate with kids with special needs.

  18. Julie says:

    Thank you for the tips Ü i have three daughters whom i hope will all know that everyone is special and unique. When my eldest bella was 3, she went to a local preschool, where one of the students had Down’s. It warmed my heart when during the PTC, her teacher told me that she was the only one in class who wanted to play with him. And when her teacher asked why, she replied, becuase “he needs me more”. Since then we have moved to a different school. I find that with age and peer pressure, my eldest isnt as sensitive as she was when she was three … But somewhere inside her, i know she can be guided to remember that simple thing she said before Ü

  19. Heather says:

    Amen! Amen! Amen! My nephew suffered a medically unexplained catastrophic brain injury almost a year ago where he lost all ability to move except he could smile and hear. He has spent the last year slowly relearning skills and although he is doing so, so well, it takes many years to recover from a brain injury. One of my most striking memories was last summer when I was in the park with my nephew. At the time, he could only move his legs a little, spastically. I lifted him out of the wagon (he was 2) and sat with him on a park bench just enjoying the ducks and the beautiful place and I was talking to him and he was laughing (he had lost his ability to speak). This strange lady walked up to me and asked, “What happened to him?” Really? He’s not a piece of furniture! He is a beautiful human being who we all love to much. A child asking that would be very understandable but an adult? Thanks for the awesome post. I hope it educates others.

  20. Holly Harris says:

    Hi, I am forty years old and was taught by my parents not to stare at people with disabilities or older people. My parents never taught me to what to say or how to act around people with disabilities. I was born in 1971 and I can not recall one person that had a disability until college.
    Now, when I am out I am not sure how to act. I am not a mother, but a very hands on aunt. When I am out with my nephews, I notice a lot of times they do not notice the child. Since I am always aware of who is around them and who is in o

  21. Holly Harris says:

    Continued- I don’t point it out, because I think that would be rude since they don’t notice anyway.
    I was raised to be polite, don’t stare, say thank you, use my manners, don’t ask adults their age, and so on and so forth as we have taught our nephews. We try to teach them to include others and be a friend. We don’t go over how to deal with children with disabilities. However, that will be added to the list: treat them like any other child. Ask them about their interests and related questions.
    I can not speak for everyone, but sometimes we ourselves are always sure what to do in a given situation and we panic and leave or re-direct their attention out of our own embarrassment and insecurities. I will remind them that we all have strengths and disabilities and that they are just like us. I feel much more prepared for these discussions now.
    Thanks for sharing!

  22. [...] preciosa: vale ler o texto O que ensinar a seus filhos sobre crianças especiais , tradução de um texto deEllen Seidman (do blog Love That Max) no blog Lagarta vira [...]

  23. Saffron Ghost says:

    No matter how you dress it up Retard, Mong, Spastic to name but a few are NOT ever acceptable.
    You use them words in my presence, my children’s presence, then I will point out that you are ignorant and thick, and I will say it very loudly indeed.

    Those words are NEVER acceptable, and the worst thing… the American’s with their lack of taste brought us the lovely word Retard. Wow thanks, thanks a bunch.

  24. Allana Harkin says:

    You’re kinda awesome aren’t you?

  25. Ellen Seidman says:

    So glad this roundup was well-received. Thank you, from all of us. Just one correction: Allana, I am not all that awesome, it’s just a rumor. Max, however, is utterly and completely awesome.

  26. [...] Gostou? Segue o link para o texto original em inglês:… [...]

  27. Meshell says:

    I took my 3&4 yr. old boys to the zoo last week and we were sitting on a bench having a snack when this little guy (3-ish) walked up with his walker and was trying to open a gate near us. His mom was on his trail with a sibling. My 4 yr. old jumped up to open the gate and said, “That’s a cool bashene (machine)! My grandma has one but it’s red.” My heart was joyful at the interaction and the mom and I exchanged a smile. I was thankful that we have been around a walker and a wheelchair so it wasn’t foreign to him. We then started talking to him about our snack and shared it and it was the most normal interaction there ever could be. :-)

  28. Lisa says:

    Thank you this is perfect for me to sit and read with my children!

  29. Bets says:

    I think EVERYONE ( children and grownups alike)should be taught that ALL people are different and that what makes us ALL special. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how smart you are, where you live or what you believe in. What matters is that you are a good person and try your hardest to do so.

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