So. I like to think I’ve got this nice gig writing for special needs parents every week because I’ve at least occasionally got something positive or helpful to offer. Perhaps I’m a cautionary tale, but I’m hopeful that’s not the case. (If it is, feel free to keep me in the dark.) And after this weekend and the tragic events in Paris, one topic felt exactly right. How do we talk to our intellectually disabled kids who might have an incomplete understanding of the world and just how truly complicated and horrible it can be? This is a topic that could help parents, I thought. I can do some good.
Except here’s the thing. I don’t actually know how to do it, not really. I’m winging it, like most of us are probably winging it, and I’m honestly not sure if I’m doing a very good job. I think maybe I’m not.
We live in a world where this comes up more often than it should. Schuyler wasn’t even two years old when 9/11 occurred, so she’s grown up in a world where that’s a thing that happened and is part of popular media. She lives in a universe where something like that makes sense, I guess, in the same way that to me, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were always statesmen whose lives ended with bullets and violence and blood spilled on black and white tv. When Schuyler sees old movies, she knows the World Trade Center isn’t there. In her world, airplanes full of people fly into skyscrapers full of people on live television. That’s not a ridiculous plotline to a movie, something cooked up by a Bond villain. It’s just The Way Things Are.
So I don’t know, I guess a lot of the work has been done for us as parents, done by this shitty, shitty world. Schuyler was born in late 1999, into an existence where there was peace and prosperity. She only remembers one filled with war and death and fear, however. One where the details are in who killed who for what screwed up reason, but the general picture is the same. She goes through drills at school practicing what do do if someone comes in with a gun and begins murdering her classmates, and she understands it. She confesses to being a little nervous when they do the drills, but I’m not sure she’s really as terrified as I think she probably should be.
Schuyler doesn’t understand what’s going on in any comprehensive way. I don’t know how to explain ISIS or Syria or refugees, and certainly not religious extremism or American jingoism. I tried to explain the Paris tragedy to her as best as I could, but honestly, I’m not sure I understood it all that well myself. I still remember the world before it lost its mind. I don’t really have the intelligence or the stomach to make sense of it to Schuyler now.
I wonder how other parents of developmentally impaired kids talk to them about it. What do they tell sensitive kids? How do they combat the fear and the confusion in a way that makes any sense at all, much less to someone with an incomplete, imperfect grasp of this world? It’s a world that they’ll have to live in, and I don’t believe the smart money is on things getting appreciably better any time soon. We can’t dodge the conversations. I just don’t exactly know how to have them.
And here’s where I get to the part that saddens me the most. It might be different for your kids; I kind of hope it is, even though it makes for harder parenting. The truth is, I sense Schuyler has been desensitized to so much of the terribleness of the world spinning around her. She had questions about Paris, but not many, just like she talked only just a little about how she felt as her teachers rehearsed hiding from a gun-wielding monster with her and her classmates.
Maybe this is the reality of any parenting at all in the Twenty-first Century, special needs or no. I cannot even begin to express to you how deeply I wish it were not so.
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