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Pity!? – What Children With Special Needs Really Need

By Helen Rauch-Elnekave
Ph.D. Pediatric Psychologist

(Page 2 of 3)

Omnipotence. While we do play a major role in the social and intellectual development of their children, we cannot take credit for ALL of our children’s positive achievements; some belong to them alone! Nor should we take upon ourselves all the blame for our children’s negative outcomes—physical, cognitive, or emotional. If we do, we will feel compelled to do everything to relieve our child’s distress, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to learn how to cope on their own. Children, whether they are physically and mentally well or impaired in some way, are unique human beings. We must honor that individuality, in all its splendor, and refrain from taking too much credit!

Anger. One can feel angry, without acting upon it. Anger, the feeling, is a natural human response. But many parents of children with special needs don’t even let themselves feel the anger that all parents experience toward their children. If we never feel anger toward our children, but repress it, how will they learn to handle that awful feeling? Well, they probably won’t and, as a consequence, will likely develop a passive-aggressive style of behavior that is manipulative and irritating! Raising children is difficult, regardless of whether they have special needs or not. Parental anger is natural. What is not acceptable, of course, is acting upon that anger by hitting or deriding our children!

And what happens to that anger that we repress? Psychoanalytic theory suggests that we “compensate” for it by becoming overly indulgent and concerned toward that which aroused our anger!

Below are the stories of two children with whom I have worked. One child (Avi) was indulged and pitied; the other (Shai), who had multiple medical problems, was treated like a child without problems.

Giving Priority to the Problem. Avi (21), the eldest of three children, was only eight years old when he began thrice-weekly dialysis treatments. Because of his illness, Avi is much shorter than his two younger sisters and looks and behaves like a nine- or 10-year-old boy. At 14, Avi became clinically depressed after an unsuccessful kidney transplant. His parents rarely set limits for him and indulge him excessively. When a younger sister recently fell in love with the tutor who came to Avi's home several times a week, he demanded that they stop seeing one another. Their parents agreed!

Although Avi “completed” high school, his knowledge is limited; teachers demanded little because of his illness. He has no friends.

In the Dialysis Unit, Avi's compliance is poor. He tries to shorten his dialysis sessions and complains about his treatment by the dialysis nurse, who sets very clear limits for him. "Only you don't pity me!" he once shouted at her. When she asked who does pity him, Avi answered, "In school, my teachers took pity on me and excused me from classes and exams that were too hard for me. They let me come late because they knew I was sick. My parents also take pity on me. They give me whatever I ask for. My sisters have to give in to me because I'm sick! So why aren't you considerate of me too?!"

Today, Avi does not look for work, despite having successfully completed a course in computer graphics. He refuses to follow his diet because, "I don't like to limit myself." Avi does not take responsibility for his behavior and is often in conflict with the staff.

Avi's parents have consistently refused to learn how to set limits for their son. Today, Avi is an unhappy young man, who is socially isolated and actively disliked by those around him.

Giving Priority to the Child. Shai (10) has been blind since he was a toddler. When he was six, he underwent surgery to implant a CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) shunt (a tube that drains excessive fluid from the brain to the spinal cord). Shai underwent kidney transplantation at the age of seven.


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