Sensitivity to other cultures is important to teach our children. Teach by example, by experiencing or learning about other faiths or traditions, or by making friends and spending time with people of other faiths and traditions. It is also important to help others learn how to be sensitive to the special challenges and talents that children with Autism or Down’s Syndrome or other special needs have. Allow others to spend time with your child or make plans to go out to public places. This can be a real challenge when you have to deal with looks from others because your child behaves in a different way or maybe even has a melt down. Maybe even your own family members have trouble accepting or understanding your child. This week, I’m giving some tips on cultural wellness and making it through the family visits.
The Medical Wellness Center at the University of Miami defines Cultural Wellness as being aware and respectful of your own faith traditions and cultural background as well as learning about, accepting, and contributing to the diversity and richness present in other faiths and cultural backgrounds. It is acting towards oneself and all others with sensitivity, consideration, understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and civility.
♫ Tune in – As frustrating as it may be, try to understand the point of view of people who are not familiar with your child’s diagnosis, even if it’s your family member. Try to understand what they may be thinking or feeling. Understanding their point of view will help you know how to approach them. Also know what your child will need to “survive” the family visit. Put together a Family Visit Survival Kit for your child with comfort items, activities, and things to help other children relate to your child. You might include a playlist on your iPod with some headphones of your child’s favorite music so he can tune out the simulation when he needs a break.
♫ Tune up – Educate your family members about your child and her special needs. Perhaps in an email prior to the visit, you can explain your child’s condition and why your child may exhibit certain behaviors. You can also explain any behavior plan you may be using and include tips to help them relate to your child. For example, the parents of Max on Parenthood might write this:
As you know, Max has Aspergers syndrome, which means he has some difficulty handling a lot of stimulation and is sometimes inflexible. Although he knows of his diagnosis, we try to emphasize his strengths and abilities rather then his challenges, so please be sensitive to our wishes and try to focus on positivity around him. He is really interested in bugs, so if you would like to have a long and detailed conversation with him, you can ask him about bugs and spend a lot of time with him talking about this topic. Sometimes Max has trouble knowing when to switch topics, so if you’ve been listening to him talk about bugs for a good while and would like to go find some dessert, try saying, “Very interesting Max. Thanks for talking to me about bugs. I have learned a lot, but now I would like to do something else. Please excuse me.” Please know that Max loves you all very much, even though he has difficulty showing or expressing his love.
♫ Tune out – If others make comments under their breath or stare at you or your child, or even if they make direct comments to you, know that their rudeness and lack of social skills has nothing to do with you or your child. As hurtful as it may be at the time, their comments and behaviors say way more about them than they do about you!