When Your ADHD or Special Needs Child is Labeled "Bad"
I remember going on a vacation when I was in college and getting breakfast in a diner. There was this little boy with a mischievous smile staring at me from behind his seat. His family was eating and seemed oblivious to the boy. I smiled at him and he continued to stare but then he also began to blow spit bubbles from his mouth. My friend and I were the helpless audience of this one boy show and it was about to get a lot more interesting.
The spit bubbles transformed into a long sticky string of spittle which he dangled and then sucked up again complete with sound effects. I almost giggled but knew that this would only encourage the boy. At this point the mom finally took notice and yelled to the air, "Will you sit down Charlie!" to which Charlie quickly plopped down onto his seat but just as quickly rose up again like a jack in the box. Charlie was soon jumping up out of his seat like a pop tart, making sure to grin at us as he did so.
Charlie bounced on his seat until his mom yelled again, "Sit your butt down!" He slunk down into the seat and then disappeared from view. I thought maybe he had settled down when I saw something on the floor beside us. It was Charlie crawling toward our table. I tried to point him away but I should have known my feeble point would have no effect on Mister Charlie. He finally crawled under our table and was resting against my legs. I looked to my friend and she looked at me. "There is a boy under the table" I whispered. "Uh yeah I know, I saw," she whispered back. And then I said out loud, "This is one bad kid!" to which Charlie got up from under the table and yelled, "I heard that! I am NOT BAD!" Finally Charlie's mom notices he is gone but doesn't even turn around. In one bellow she calls, "CHARLIEEEEE!!!" Charlie swarms back to his seat, glares at me, and retaliates with, "You're bad!"
This incident took place when I was a naïve young lass without much experience with children. In due time I would meet many Charlies. I was going to graduate school to become a special education teacher. I learned all about behavior management and what strategies to employ to help children control their behavior so that they could learn. It all sounded great in the text books but in the actual classroom it was plenty difficult as there might be ten Charlies running around or hopping like Tigger.
Many years later when I quit my job working with the special needs population to stay at home with my baby boys, I had no inkling that my youngest son would grow to be a Charlie. The scene in the restaurant from my college years was replayed when my son Max was about five or six. He was really into watching the Rug Rats cartoon. And he liked to act out what he saw. We were on vacation, went to a restaurant and Max wants to crawl under the table. This was what the Rug Rats do in an episode when they go on vacation. The waiter comes and my son is under the table. I slide him up by his arms and onto the seat as the waiter looks surprised. We order and I begin to wonder if we are going to need to get things to go.
Max sits in his seat and I feel a glimmer of hope. Maybe we are going to get to eat a nice meal after all. No sooner than I get comfortable and Max is gone. He had slid under the table and was crawling past the waiter bringing our food, almost tripping him in the process. Red faced I ignore all the stares to get my son. And then I hear the words I had uttered so many years ago, "That is a really bad kid!" Without even knowing where that voice was coming from I said loudly, "My son is not bad! He just has special needs!"
Perhaps I had jinxed myself years ago when I called Charlie a "bad" kid. Nowadays when I see a child acting up in public I try to refrain from all judgment. You never really know what is going on with a child. And what good does it ever do to place such a harsh value judgment upon a child? Now I replace the term, "bad" with "having a hard time" which is more likely the case in most instances.
My son Max is well known in our community. He makes himself known everywhere he goes. I am not going to shy away from taking him places because he is "different." Sometimes he squeals or sings or makes odd gestures and movements. But the people who know him well don't mind. It is just the looks from strangers that hurt, the people who don't know my son and just label him with some pejorative term.
Went to the mall this past weekend and heard someone yelling in this guttural deep voice. The sound carried through the mall. It was so loud that it made me startle. I was standing in line to make a purchase and the clerk there smiled at my startle and said, "Oh that is just Bobby. That sound means he is happy." The clerk's explanation made me want to cry. It could have easily been my son she was describing in such cheerful terms. Then I saw Bobby, a tall adolescent, I am guessing who had autism. His much shorter parents were leading him hand in hand through the aisles of the mall. When Bobby would make his sound people would laugh or stare. The parents, eyes lovingly glued to their son, marched forward through the crowds.
For all the Charlies, Maxes, and Bobbys out there I felt proud.