To the Mom of the Special Needs Child Who Received That God-Awful Letter
by Kathryn Hively
Photograph by Twenty20
Dear Ms. Bradenburg,
Having two daughters with sensory issues makes for a noisy home. Within moments of waking, one child starts humming and rocking on the sofa for sensory input. The other soon becomes aggravated by the metronomic sound and screams for it to stop. My husband and I have learned to tune it out, but even with this small mercy, I drink in silence like a parched marathon runner at the end of the race. I was gulping down the early morning, pre-kid tranquility when I came across your viral post on my Facebook feed.
I want to say I cried when I read how devastated you were to receive a letter from another parent, asking that your child, who has several developmental issues, no longer interact with theirs. How they were worried that by simply playing with your son, his disability would hold their son back in "comprehension, life, his communication, socialization and learning level”—just to name a few. The last line of the letter was the real kicker: "Please keep your son away from ours, so ours are not picking up the idea that playing with toys or watching cartoons younger than his is OK."
You were understandably heartbroken to receive such a cruel letter and I’m sure many people read your words and cried.
But I wasn't one of them.
I felt your pain like a constant, familiar toothache and skimmed ahead to the image of the letter that followed. As I stood in my still kitchen, waiting for the coffee to brew, I read the other parent’s words and almost threw my phone across the counter.
These people were concerned that your child enjoyed watching shows and playing with toys below what they deemed “an appropriate age level.” They worried their son would begin flapping his hands, imitating your child’s "stimming" behavior. Based on this parent’s logic, older siblings could be developmentally hindered by playing with the same toys as their younger siblings. Seriously?! If it wasn’t so hurtful, their words would be laughable.
They failed to understand the benefits of having relationships with those who differ in interests, beliefs and even abilities.
According to your post, you shared their letter to educate others on a common challenge that parents of children with special needs face: ignorance. I understand that all too well.
I’ve witnessed this ignorance my entire life, first as a sibling of someone with dyslexia and ADHD, and now as a parent of children with special needs. So, instead of crying when I read your post—which is what I suppose a nice person would have done—I wanted to fling my phone, ideally, right at the letter writer’s head. These people felt the need to protect their child from your son. They failed to understand the benefits of having relationships with those who differ in interests, beliefs, and even abilities.
Don’t these dingbats know about inclusive school programs, where “mainstream” children and those with cognitive issues learn in the same classroom? Obviously, this doesn’t work for all students, all the time, but inclusive classrooms exist for one simple reason: Everyone benefits.
This doesn’t mean that well-meaning parents should push their kids on children with special needs for everyone’s benefit. Individuals have the right to form genuine friendships, regardless of their abilities. Which is really why this letter sucks so hard. Both boys stand to lose a friend. The letter never mentions either wanting to avoid the other. Quite the opposite, you were asked to keep apart two kids who enjoyed each other’s company.
Perhaps the letter writer’s intentions, while misguided, spoke to your own need to protect your son—which I’m guessing is why you didn’t post names. I know of at least one person who wanted to throw more than a phone at their heads. We can all go a little “mama bear” sometimes. However, you are not simply a mama bear. You are an advocate. In situations like this, it’s easy to unleash your mother dragon, but you didn’t.
Fire doesn’t heal. (Plus, half the internet is already steaming on your behalf.) Instead, you told your son’s story. Bit by bit, you chipped away at the ignorance. So I, for one, applaud you.
And to the parents who wrote that letter: It’s never too late to learn that you can learn from anyone.
Editor’s note: The post with the letter has since been removed by Bradenburg.