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How 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' Changed My Perspective as a Special Needs Parent

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“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose.” You know the song! It’s been playing in my house a lot this Christmas, and my 4-year-old is responsible for it being stuck in my head. My 4-year-old, who is developmentally delayed and medically fragile, has taken an incredible liking to Rudolph’s story. It wasn’t until we sat down and watched the movie as a family that I realized why this story is so important for my son and many children like him.

Rudolph looks different; he has a very shiny nose the doesn’t look like other reindeer. He stands out, and the other reindeer make fun of him. Those lousy reindeer won’t let him play in their games, and they even call him names. How mean is that? It’s just not nice, I tell you. As I was watching the movie, it dawned on me this story isn’t just a Christmas story – it teaches children that difference can be a good thing, that even a reindeer that stands out in a crowd and is ridiculed can be a hero. I am sure I’m late the to game, although I’m probably not the first (nor the last) to figure this out as an adult. As a child, I paid no attention to the story or the meaning, I simply liked the song. However, my child is very intuitive, and he has been drawn to Rudolph and his nose for a reason. My son is just like Rudolph.

Children with special needs are different than their mainstream peers. Many of them carry equipment with them that looks strange or can be seen using wheelchairs, gait trainers, canes, walkers or wearing braces on their feet, ankles or calves. Some will walk attached to tubes for either eating or oxygen, while you may see others with bags attached to them to drain fluid from their bodies and the various organs that may not be working properly. Children may have physical differences with how their heads are structured, may have limbs smaller or shorter than other children or they could be missing limbs. Often children like this are ridiculed, mocked or stared at by others. When my family is out, we are often stared at when we are feeding our son. I am sure the stares are not meant to offend, but they definitely can make me feel insecure. I am only the caretaker, I cannot imagine what it must feel to be the child in that case.

Teasing hurts, and children with special needs are teased and bullied at higher rates than any other group of children. Studies have shown that children with disabilities and special needs are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their mainstream peers.

Stories like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” give hope to children like my son, and so many others dealing with differences of any kind. We as a society get so stuck with comparing and trying to be like everyone else, that we fail to realize that our differences is what makes life beautiful. One person’s weakness, could be another’s strength. We often focus on our weaknesses, but the truth is if we focus on our strengths, we can all be the hero of the story. Rudolph used his nose to guide the sleigh, he made sure Santa made the trip to deliver all the toys to the children. His difference became his strength!

What my son lacks in some areas, he makes up in others. His mind is deep and his memory is long. While physically he has not been gifted with strength, his mind has been gifted with the ability to memorize and categorize anything he finds an interest in. He knows more about dinosaurs and trucks, than I have in all my years. Every child has their own individual strengths that we, as their parents and mentors, needs to encourage. We need to stop focusing on their perceived deficiencies and find ways to cultivate their strengths. We need to stop encouraging their need to compare themselves with others, and we, as adults, also need to stop this behavior.

We are all different. We all have unique gifts, and none of us are built the same. Instead of celebrating what you don’t have, we should all be a bit more like Rudolph, and celebrate what we do have. Thank you, Rudolph for helping this mom understand a very fundamental and simple lesson of life. Our lives will be changed forever.

Originally published: December 24, 2016
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