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My Special Needs Child Can’t Understand The Colorado Shooting—But I Wish He Did

When horrific incidents like the Colorado movie theater shooting happen, I grieve on several levels. I grieve for the victims. I grieve for their families, and the family of the murderer. And I grieve a little for my son, especially as I listen to parents discussing how (and if) to tell their children about what happened.

At 9, Max does not yet understand what it means to watch “news” on TV. He had a stroke at birth that resulted in brain damage and cognitive impairment. Unlike my 7-year-old, Max doesn’t have a sense of what a gun does, what Colorado is, or what “die” means. He doesn’t yet know the empathy you can have for fellow human beings and their tragedies.

Max lives in Maxland. It is a lovely place to be; he is a happy kid who literally wakes up with a smile on his face. He charms everyone he meets, even grumpy people. He’s got serious guts, determination, and the best visual memory of anyone in our family (we can always count on him to tell us if we’re driving in the wrong direction). In my eyes, he is as perfect as any child. At times like these, though, his ignorance isn’t bliss for me: I become acutely aware that I have a child to whom I cannot explain such things.

It’s not that I actually want Max to know about evil. In fact, like some moms I’m choosing not to discuss the Batman shooting with my daughter, unless she asks. I’m pretty sure I’d decide the same for Max… if I had that choice. But there is no choice. He wouldn’t get it. He won’t ask.

“Listen, if Max were 4-years-old you wouldn’t struggle with this,” a friend said to me, reassuringly. “You’d know that he was too young to understand. It’s like that.”

Yes, it’s like that. Still, I struggle with the Catch-22: As the parent of a child with intellectual disability, I can spare him from the reality of violence and prolong that haven of childhood. But I want my son to have that level of cognition, concern and caring. Someday, I hope, he will reach it.

Over the years, people have continuously told me that all that matters is that Max is content. The thought’s given me comfort in darker moments. I know it’s inherently true.  And yet, as his parent, part of me aches to be able to explain the world to him — in all its beauty and ugliness.

 

Image: Screen grab, ABC News

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More to read from 1000 Perplexing Things About Parenthood:

• What To Teach Your Children About Kids With Special Needs

• I’m Not The Word Police, But I Am Asking You Not To Say “Retard”

• 20 Not-Obvious Photos Every Parent Should Take

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