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Everyone is a "person with special needs"

I recently had the pleasure of joining the Jr. Leader's Club (6th-8th graders) of the Patrick Henry YMCA to discuss working with people with special needs. A few take-aways that I'd like to share with you!

  1. Everyone likes candy. That, and establishing the ground rules for a discussion, are great places to start. 
  2. As a presenter, always tell stories. Especially self-depreciating ones. 
  3. Use of the word "retard/retarded" is still prevalent these days, but it's an all-or-nothing thing. I am pleased to report that while many teens know that one kid that says the "R"-word all the time, 99% of people do not.
  4. There are more young people than you think who are no-nonsense fighters standing up to the 1% of people making the wrong decisions.
  5. There are more young people than you think who have personal experiences with other people with special needs. This is the new normal. And young people don't see it as anything other than normal.
  6. There are more young people than you think who have experiences outside the norm, which might cause them to have a special need, which might result in undesirable behavior. 
  7. There are more young people than you think that need to be heard, that haven't been listened to.
I honestly wish we had more time to converse on this subject; I would have loved to get more in-depth about my experiences with people with unusual special needs:

  • the kids that didn't get their medication that morning and make the wrong choices
  • the child who was adopted from another country, who is legally blind due to his albinism and needs help in surprising ways
  • the girl in cooking camp who is gluten intolerant, allergic to nuts, and can't eat eggs that still wants to make delicious and healthy things
  • the siblings whose parent passed away and are grieving and need a little extra time to make friends

We commonly assume that "Special Needs" refers to someone on the Autistic Spectrum, or has Down Syndrome, or Opposition Defiance Disorder. As anyone who works with others can attest, we all have life circumstances that get in the way. It takes caring adults to see this, understand the situation, make appropriate accommodations, and provide the environment to still make them successful.