How To Interact With People Who Have Special Needs

One night, I didn’t feel like going out for dinner. It was raining and I wanted to stay in. But the rain stopped and my hubby convinced me to go out. So, we went to Sweet Tomatos, a local salad bar restaurant. After going through the salad buffet, we found a spot and settled in.

Samuel was persistent in asking for his cereal. The sound he makes reminds me of a duck.

Ralph jokingly said, “You’re a broken record, kid.”

A lady sitting at another table laughed.

Big Boy Smile
Big Boy Smile

We were almost done with our meal when the lady came over and said she was a pediatric nurse. Ralph coaxed Samuel into giving her a wiggle and smile. Yup, the smile does it every time.

She asked about our little guy and we joyfully answered her questions. What parent doesn’t love to talk about their kid? It was so nice to fill her curiosity and share the joy of our son.

We left the restaurant feeling like we made a new friend. We would have missed the moment had we not gone out.

Next we went to Sam’s Club. This time we erroneously left Samuel’s cereal in the car. It just started to rain when we got in so we decided to do a quick shopping trip.

As we were going down the last aisle, I saw a woman in a wheelchair with a trach. Excited to introduce myself, I explained Samuel had a trach too. She smiled back and asked us a few questions about our son. She was so warm and friendly, I felt comfortable asking a question I’ve always wanted to know.

“What does it feel like to be suctioned?”

She explained it didn’t feel good. Much like the feeling you get when you gag. Instead she uses her cough reflex to avoid suctioning and hasn’t done it in five years.

Fascinating. We suction Samuel several times a week. I ponder how to teach him to learn purposeful coughing as an alternative.

She happily shared her experiences with us as we continued to talk. Soon, Samuel is almost inconsolable, demanding his cereal. We say goodbye to our new friend. I head to the check-out while Ralph returns to the car where the golden cereal awaits.

Golden Cereal
Golden Cereal

Waiting in line, I smile. What I would have missed if we hadn’t gone out.

If you are wondering how to interact with people who have special needs, our night out gives a few hints (plus a few extra):

  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Like the nurse did. Or like I did when meeting the lady at Sam’s Club.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even if it’s simple like asking a child’s age. You never know what you will learn. I share about the type of dwarfism Samuel has to create awareness. And if you have kids, that awareness is absolutely educational to teach them.
  • I know it’s hard, but try not to stare. Smile instead. It just may lead to a conversation.
  • Don’t touch the child or the stroller. Even shaking hands is something I prefer not to do. I have to be constantly vigilant to keep Samuel healthy. Before having Samuel, I wasn’t so concerned. I also got a cold almost every year. Now, I rarely get a cold. And, thank God, neither does Samuel.
  • Do fuss over the kids. I’ve had many people come up to me and comment on how cute Samuel is. I use that opportunity to share about our little miracle and hopefully get him to smile, warming another heart.

So the next time you are out, try one of these suggestions. You never know, you just might make a new friend. Then post your experience here. I’d love to hear your story.

By Evelyn Mann

Author, A Miracle In My Living Room

One Child, One Miracle, Hope Lives

August 19, 2015

A Negative Pregnancy Diagnosis In The Face of Hope

August 19, 2015

8 Thoughts on How To Interact With People Who Have Special Needs

  1. Very helpful. I remember being in the Orlando airport with our grandchildren after a trip to Disney World. Our plane was delayed. The airport was not a happy place. While we were there we noticed a family with two children (possibly twins) in wheel chairs. The kids had many questions. I suggested they go ask, and was pleased when they did.

    • How cute that the kids asked. I’m sure that helped build awareness for your grandchildren. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks for posting this advice, Evelyn. It really is helpful. Even though the suggestions seem like common sense, I know many folks are afraid to interact for fear they will cause embarrassment or say the wrong thing. Samuel looks adorable in this video!

    • Glad you found the blog helpful. With that cute video, can you imagine he has a lethal diagnosis? Miracles happen. Thanks for sharing in my joy.

  3. This is great information, it would be a wonderful thing to teach young children so one day we have a whole society of adults who know how to interact with kindness and understanding.

  4. Thank you! Learned a great deal. Love to hear about your life and family. Great tips!


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