As parents of children with special needs, we have all heard the phrase, “all kids do that”, from well-meaning family members, friends, and parents of typical children. Whether it’s said in reference to potty training, eating, social skills or behavioral challenges, it is frustrating to hear and minimizes our experience and concern over an issue that has garnered a great deal of time, attention, and stress.
There have been a number of posts from great bloggers about this issue recently. One topic I haven’t seen covered, and is particularly relevant for us, is safety (maybe it was covered and I missed it, not sure).
We’re programmed, as parents, to keep our children safe. But what happens when our child is programmed for danger?? Although my son is “high functioning”, the ADHD component of his disability slows his processing time, and decreases his impulse control. That’s an extremely dangerous combination: slower thought processing and an inability to control his impulses means that everyday things become dangerous issues.
Yesterday my husband picked up Connor from the after-school program. As they were leaving, another child’s father was coming in. This father happens to be a sheriff. He arrived in full uniform, complete with holster and gun. As Connor and hubs walked past the man, Connor turned and murmured “oh, a gun.” He reached out toward the gun as my husband said “NO”, but his arm didn’t falter, until my husband reached out and grabbed him back. He wasn’t ignoring my husband’s command, he simply was so intent on the object that he couldn’t stop himself, and would have touched it if his efforts weren’t thwarted.
We had multiple discussions about safety and personal space. Connor knows a gun is dangerous, but asked, “will it fire if you just touch it?” His brain is not wired to accept an explanation, he is determined to find things out for himself, no matter the consequences.
It has always been this way. When he was little, it wasn’t enough to say “stay away from the street” or “stay on the sidewalk.” I knew I had to always be within reaching and grabbing distance of him. He is almost 7, and sometimes this is still an issue.
So last night, when my mom said, “he’s a boy, boys do those kinds of things”, I had to have a very clear conversation about the difference between Connor and “other boys.”
I told her the fire ant story. When he was about 3 1/2, he became enthralled with an ant hill. For two weeks, he would find a moment in the day to get near this particular ant hill. Each day I told him frightening stories of the fire ants and how they will bite, and it stings quite a bit. Each day he headed right back to the ant hill. Finally I got a pitcher of water ready, came out and stood next to him, and said “fine, go ahead and poke the ant hill.” He did, and immediately jumped back when he saw the thousands of fire ants bubble to the surface. It was summer, so he was wearing sandals, and one ant managed to make its way onto his foot and bite him. He began howling and I poured the water over his foot, and then took him in to put Neosporin on it.
“Do you want to poke the ant hill again?”, I asked.
“Nooooo, I hate those stupid ants!”
Learning the hard way is fine for fire ants, but isn’t an option when it comes to street traffic, strange dogs, or guns.
All kids don’t do that. My kid does. To say that “all kids do that” minimizes the fear I live with each day, that my son’s impulses will override what he’s been taught, and have disastrous consequences.
There’s a police station visit in my very near future. It’s not enough to say “no”, or to have a conversation. We will have to go to great lengths to drive this point home, and enlist the help of others that can help illustrate the dangers of firearms.
So please, don’t tell me all kids do that.