Back in high school, I had an English teacher who once spoke about the dangers of equality. Dangers is perhaps too strong a word – but the point was that pure equality, much like pure socialism, is only wonderful in theory. In reality, if we treated everyone completely equal, it would ignore everyone’s individual abilities, preferences, and needs.
It struck me, then, and it strikes me even more now that I have a child with special needs.
A few blogs I’ve read demand their children with needs to treated “just like any other child.” Now, there is something to that – I never want people to treat Danny as less of a kid because of his stuff. But at the same time, we have had to change a lot of the things we do, places we go, and ways we do things for him. At first, that bothered me, until I remembered that statement about equality from so long ago.
See, as summer goes by, I try to make a fun experience for both my older kids. It works, but it is tempered, altered. Friends and playgroups talk about going to movies, having picnics, and spending all day at places like the zoo. These are all things Danny can do, sure, and if I were going for equality and treating him no different, we’d do them.
We would also pay a steep price for it. Going to the movies with Danny involves sitting way in the back, giving him an iPod when he loses interest in the show and the snacks, and probably chasing him down a few times as he tries to run up and down the stairs. There is no way he would ever sit still enough to have a picnic, and anything more than a couple hours at the zoo ends up in a battle because he loses his ability to follow, stay close, and listen – it just becomes too exciting, too stimulating. We tried a library program, and even though it was a “special needs” program for kids that have trouble sitting down, he was too active, too busy exploring the room and getting hands on with the book and librarian to fit in with the rest.
Now, I don’t say this as a negative. Once, I would be upset, be sad I couldn’t do all these fun “normal” things. But that’s just how Danny is, and I don’t need him to be like everyone else. We find other things. We take shorter trips places. We judge our timing and our destinations. We bring movies home and pop popcorn. We search out playgrounds with fences so we don’t need to worry about him running away. And yes, sometimes we just don’t go. Some may worry that it’s not fair to exclude him, but is equality worth it if all we do is battle and upset Danny (and ourselves) getting him to conform? I think not. Sometimes that means splitting up, one of us taking Eric to places Danny wouldn’t be interested in while the other stays home with the littles…but that’s ok.
Everyone accepts that every child needs to be parented differently…until they have special needs. Then, parenting to your kid’s needs is suddenly seen as unfair, as excluding them. We do our own thing, and yes, occasionally it chafes me to have to skip something or leave early for Danny – but it’s what he needs. And I will gladly embrace inequality at times if it means he is happy.