How do I interact with someone with Special Needs?

Dear Ms. Awareness,

When I see a person with special needs I often do not know what to say or do. Could you help me with this problem?

A concerned parishioner

Ms. Awareness answers:

Dear Concerned Parishioner,

Raising awareness on how to interact with those with special needs is one of Ms. Awareness’s favorite things to do! I often suggest that people think of Mark 12:30-31, which states, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and all your strength. …. And Love your neighbor as yourself….”

Believe it or not, “one’s neighbor” includes that person in church who may sit near you with special needs! So you need to ask yourself, how would you like to be treated if you were the person with special needs, or if it were your child or other family member?

Some suggestions include:

*Make eye contact and greet the person with a smile, just the way you would want to be greeted. Remember that depending on the person’s disability they may or may not be able to make eye contact with you. That’s ok! The main thing is that you took the initiative to be friendly!

*Note something of interest and make a positive comment to begin a conversation.

If the person is young, feel free to comment on the child’s shirt (I like the color of your shirt.) or if he has a toy, comment on the toy, it’s color, shape, size.

If it is an older person, a positive ice breaker would be to nicely comment on their fashion, their hair, what they may have with them, a purse, jacket, etc.  Often older people with special needs carry things with them that they have made, or that is important to them. You can always make a kind comment on what you see them carrying such as homemade jewelry, a lego creation, or a book.

Of course, depending on the disability of the person, you may or may not get a response, or you may get a response that you were not expecting, funny, sharp, critical, and possibly even hurtful. Again, that’s ok! What is important is that you took the first step to say hello to someone, and made him feel welcomed in church. That person, and their family, will definitely appreciate your thoughtful gesture. And when you see them again, the process will be easier. You will feel more at ease. After a while, you may be surprised to find that you have made a new friend, and they may soon be saying “Hello” to you!

In the end, Ms. Awareness would like to suggest that it is always best to remember that we are all more alike than we are different. Differences can be great, especially when they are met with kindness and compassion.

Ms. Awareness of St. Margaret Mary