Many of us know that when you have kids with disabilities, the authorities may be contacted due to someone’s misunderstanding about your child’s behavior. Maybe your child has a meltdown in the grocery store, or someone hears a child screaming in your house.
How can you exist normally when you are afraid to answer the door or take your child out in public? As parents, we are sometimes fearful of the possible judgment of a neighbor or stranger. It's enough to want to lock the door and stay inside. How can we ease our concerns and create more understanding?
Our kids are different – and they do not handle the environment the same way as other children. For example, my daughter will shriek like she's on fire out of pure pleasure; the happier she is, the louder she gets. To someone who does not know her, it could seem that something is wrong or she is being harmed in some way.
My son has autism. I dread what someone who does not know us must think when he is in full meltdown. At times, I have prayed that the neighbors won't misunderstand the commotion. These are concerns many of us have and situations we have to be able to deal with.
So is it better to let your neighbors know about your child’s disability? How much of your family's situation should be shared? Would talking about it be more suspicious or would it ease some of the strain on your family? Should you call the authorities and inform them of your child's disability in case someone does call?
I have had CPS called on my family a few times, and after being investigated (including interviews with my children) the case was dismissed. Someone who did not take the time to learn about one of my kids thought they were doing the right thing.
In my opinion, it’s better just to tell the people who might interact with your child about her disability. Contact your local police, fire department, local hospital, the schools your children attend, and any neighbors who will have any contact with your children.
The fear is always there. But with preparation and communication we can improve the outcome.
Keep a folder near your door with a letter from your child's doctor and any therapies and treatments you may be using. Keep up-to-date medicine lists and a checklist that clearly spells out any special coping skills or behaviors that work well for your child. These are things that can help in the long run.
Take the time to get to know your neighbors. Tell them about your child. Help them to understand. This may not prevent those situations we all dread, but they may help when everything you are doing for your children is questioned or others are asked about you and your child.
You can find other helpful ideas on this website on Navigating Daily Life.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.