5 Tips for Interacting With My Child With Special Needs


One night, I didn’t feel like going out for dinner. It was raining and I wanted to stay in. But the rain stopped and my hubby, Ralph, convinced me to go out. So we went to a local salad bar restaurant. After going through the salad buffet, we found a spot and settled in.

My son, Samuel, was persistent in asking for his cereal. The sound he makes reminds me of a duck.

Ralph jokingly said, “You’re a broken record, kid.”

A lady sitting at another table laughed.

Evelyn Mann the mighty.2-001

We were almost done with our meal when the lady came over and said she was a pediatric nurse. Ralph coaxed Samuel into giving her a wiggle and smile. Yep, the smile does it every time.

She asked about our little guy, and we joyfully answered her questions. What parent doesn’t love to talk about their kid? It was so nice to fill her curiosity and share the joy of our son.

We left the restaurant feeling like we made a new friend. We would have missed the moment had we not gone out.

Next we went to Sam’s Club. This time we erroneously left Samuel’s cereal in the car. It just started to rain when we got in so we decided to do a quick shopping trip.

As we were going down the last aisle, I saw a woman in a wheelchair with a trach. Excited to introduce myself, I explained Samuel had a trach, too. She smiled back and asked us a few questions about our son. She was so warm and friendly, and I felt comfortable asking a question I’ve always wanted to know.

“What does it feel like to be suctioned?”

She explained it didn’t feel good and that it was like the feeling you get when you gag. Instead, she uses her cough reflex to avoid suctioning and hasn’t done it in five years.

Fascinating. We suction Samuel several times a week. I pondered how to teach him to learn purposeful coughing as an alternative.

She happily shared her experiences with us as we continued to talk. Soon, Samuel was almost inconsolable, demanding his cereal. We said goodbye to our new friend. I headed to the check-out while Ralph returned to the car where the golden cereal awaited.

Waiting in line, I smiled. What I would have missed if we hadn’t gone out.

If you are wondering how to interact with people who have special needs, our night out gives a few hints (plus a few extra):

1. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.

Like the nurse did. Or like I did when meeting the lady at Sam’s Club.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Even if it’s a simple question like asking a child’s age. You never know what you will learn. I share about the type of dwarfism Samuel has to create awareness. And if you have kids, that awareness is absolutely educational and worth sharing with them.

3. I know it’s hard, but try not to stare.

Smile instead. It just may lead to a conversation.

4. Don’t touch the child or the stroller.

Even shaking hands is something I prefer not to do. I have to be constantly vigilant to keep Samuel healthy. Before having Samuel, I wasn’t so concerned. I also got a cold almost every year. Now, I rarely get a cold. And, thank God, neither does Samuel.

5. Do fuss over the kids.

I’ve had many people come up to me and comment on how cute Samuel is. I use that opportunity to share something about our little miracle and hopefully get him to smile, warming another heart.

So the next time you’re out, try one of these suggestions. You never know, you just might make a new friend.

Evelyn Mann the mighty.3-001

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