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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

Special Needs Parents: How to earn “The Look”

Has anyone ever given you a serious look that says unequivocally, “You have absolutely lost your mind?”

I have.  Several times.  Yes, recently.

I guess I’ve earned it with my hair styled by a 6 year old, dark under-eye circles and wrinkled clothes that never seem to fit quite right.  And then there’s my questionable behavior in public – as the parent of a child with special needs, I often find myself breaking social norms.

These are some of the circumstances in which I’ve been on the receiving end of “that look.”

1. Wedding Walkout

I walk out of wedding receptions, sometimes without even entering the dining room if it’s too noisy, usually without saying goodbye.  It’s Meltdown Management 101.

2. Midnight Walks

I take long neighborhood walks with a wide awake child at dusk and again at dawn.  Sometimes also at 11 pm or 3 in the morning.  It’s the best way to help my son relax.  I get “the look” whenever a neighbor sees us outdoors at these odd hours.

3. Screaming is not a good idea

Sometimes at indoor playgrounds I tell other people’s children that it is not polite to scream in another person’s face.  For unknown reasons, a lot of kids used to think it was a good idea to do this to my son, and their parents allowed it.  My son and I did not agree.

4. Bathroom Conundrum

I know the location of all the public family bathrooms within 20 miles of my house, but I’ve brought my son into the women’s bathroom at Nordstrom whenever the family bathroom was already occupied.

5. The Neighborhood Shuffle 

My family moved 3 times in 6 years.  Why?  For the right special ed programs.  And it was totally worthwhile, since my son made remarkable progress in those 6 years.  Every time we move to a new neighborhood, someone wants to know where we came from and can’t believe that we would really do this.

6. Early Bird Special

I keep track of all the public places that are open between 5 and 6 am so that my husband can sleep in a little and be productive at his work during the day.  There are only a few lap swimmers at the rec center when it opens, and they are always surprised to see me splashing with my son.

7. Allergy Woes

I chaperoned a school field trip, knowing that arrangements had already been made for my son’s peanut-free table in the lunchroom.  But at lunchtime I couldn’t find the table.  It was in a different lunchroom, and as soon as I walked into the windowless room, the smell of peanut butter hit me.  I swept my son out of there, and found an empty table back near his class.  I brought my own tablecloth from home.

8. Meltdown Management

Supermarket checkout scene: “Breathe, slow, slow, slow, slow.  You are yelling in my ear.  You may choose an indoor voice.  Breathe, slow, slow, slow, slow.”  Everyone around us pretends not to notice. The looks come as we leave the store.

9. No Party Here

I rode my bike half a mile to find the source of amazingly loud outdoor music that I could hear in my son’s bedroom even with the window shut and the fan on.  When I finally found the big party, I said to the homeowner, “I live 5 blocks away.  Would you be willing to turn your music down so that my children can sleep?”  The homeowner agreed, then watched me in stunned silence as I rode my bike back home in the dark.

 10. Pour Water On That!

I went outside in my pajamas one night to ask my next-door neighbor how much longer his fireworks show would last, because my children had been awakened – for the second time in that week.  Now I get to enjoy “the look” from my neighbor every morning and evening.

What have you done lately to earn that look?  Do you get the look of extreme disdain like the blogger “Autism With a Side of Fries” or the look of sheer insanity?

Karen Wang

Written on June 26, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"

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