ARTICLES / Children / What
Children with Special Need Really Need /
By Helen Rauch-Elnekave
Children who are chronically ill, physically
challenged, or who suffer from learning difficulties
need our RESPECT, not our PITY. When we pity
children, we feel sorry for them, indulge them and, in
the process, actually show them disrespect.
When faced with children’s illnesses or birth defects,
parents can easily lose sight of their children’s
uniqueness and concentrate primarily on dealing with
their medical “problem.” In our zeal to do the
right thing, we can become oblivious to the ordinary
developmental and emotional needs of our child.
But, isn’t having pity on people the same as having
compassion for them?
No. When we pity people, we don’t really see them.
We allow their illness, or their handicap, to blind us
to their ordinary needs as human beings. When we
have compassion for people, we understand them as
individuals who have needs like us, not only those posed
by their particular handicap.
PARENTING A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
It is rare for parents of a child with special needs to
know intuitively not to let their child’s “problem”
dictate their parenting agenda. And then there are
always those family members who are waiting to criticize
us for not being more indulgent toward our “poor child!”
Parenting, the world’s most important profession,
requires more than love; yet few of us have undergone
any training for it, beyond what we experienced as
Parents of children who are chronically ill, or have
special needs, characteristically question whether they
are asking too much of their child or if they will
damage them by making “unreasonable” demands.
Adding to their “parenting dilemma” is the preferential
treatment they must give their child with special needs.
They ask themselves and worry about how that extra care
and attention might be adversely affecting their other
What is the source of this natural urge to indulge
children with special needs?
Our own unacknowledged feelings!
Guilt. In order to parent effectively, we (whether
our children are healthy or have special needs) must
first recognize and understand our own feelings.
Should we remain blind to them, we will be more likely
to rely on “pity” when deciding how to respond to our
It is natural for the parents of children who are born
with a congenital defect, or who develop a chronic
illness, to search for explanations about why such a
tragedy befell them. “Did we do something to cause
our child’s problem? Perhaps we could have
prevented it? Should we have called the doctor
earlier or not gone out the night of the accident?”
The questions are endless and the guilt overwhelming.
If, in addition, the problem is hereditary, or was
caused by an accident for which a parent was
responsible, the pangs of guilt become unbearable.
And with time, guilt burrows deeply and causes no end of
suffering. Indeed, it often causes us to
“compensate” for our imagined or real role in causing
or, at least, in not preventing our child’s illness or