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Myths & Tips

By Shannon Pugh
In IBC Stories, Arise
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Hello! I'm Shannon Pugh the Special Needs Director here at IBC. I’m going to debunk some myths and provide tips that will hopefully help you be more comfortable loving and interacting with those who have special needs.

I have wondered for many years why people shy away from interacting with individuals who act or look differently because of a disability. I think it has to do with our aversion toward the unknown. But as God’s chosen ambassadors we have a calling to love every single person He puts in front of us. Let's start with three myths:

Myth #1 – Staring is rude.  
Ok, this myth isn’t totally wrong. No one wants to be stared at… it feels isolating and uncomfortable. But being ignored is even more hurtful. Imagine traveling through a mall or a crowd and people look at you and then abruptly look away. When kids look at you or ask questions, they are chastised and pulled away. 

Myth #2 – What you see is what you get.
Many people with developmental delays or differences have difficulty communicating. It’s hard to imagine having thoughts and understanding everything around you, but not being able to voice those thoughts or respond to others. Technology now allows people to communicate through typing or pointing to pictures in order to put sentences or thoughts together. It turns out that many non-verbal individuals understand everything that is said to them and about them.

For examples of technology assisting communication, look up videos about these individuals: Ido Kedar, Naoki Higashida, Tito Mukhophyay, Carly Fleishman

Myth #3 – God calls “special people” to work with individuals who have disabilities and/or learning differences.
God doesn’t make special super-humans to work with individuals with special needs. God doesn’t make parents who have a child with a disability special either. God doesn’t call certain churches to have special needs ministries. God made each and every person in His image. He is the one who equips us to love and interact with whomever He puts in our path!

So let me give you some easy, practical tips that you can put into practice immediately.

Tip #1 – Don’t look away, move toward.
Staring is rude, but avoiding eye contact and treating someone like they might be contagious is much worse. If you are in public and you see someone with a disability, whether that means they move differently, look different or act differently than you, make eye contact and smile. That’s all it takes! If you are in a setting where it’s appropriate to introduce yourself, do that! Sometimes children say things that are not socially appropriate and they usually say those things at approximately 100 times their usual volume. The worst thing you can do is shush them and pull them away. Instead, acknowledge your child’s question and explain that everyone is different because God designs every person in a unique way. Then point out similarities – interests, clothing, etc. If it’s appropriate, take your child to meet them! We want to teach our children that people who look or act differently aren’t scary and shouldn’t be avoided or ignored.

Tip #2 – Treat a person with special needs the same way you would treat any person their same age.
This is a version of the Golden Rule – treat others how you would like to be treated. Would you want someone else to talk to you like you’re a toddler? Talk about you instead of directly to you? Simply leave you out of a conversation because they think you won’t enjoy or understand it? Then don’t do that to people with special needs either. If you treat them like anyone else, you can’t go wrong. If they don’t actually understand, then you’ve erred on the side of respect and dignity! But if you treat them in a condescending or exclusionary way, then you have missed the opportunity to love them well and see their God-given gifts.

I hope these myths and tips have challenged how you think and equipped you to interact with all kinds of people you meet. If you would like to spend time with some individuals who have special needs, Respite is a great opportunity to do so. We provide 3 hours of free care for families who have special needs every month. No experience required and families are welcome to serve together! Contact Shannon Pugh for more information.

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