ARTICLES / Children / What
Children with Special Need Really Need /
By Helen Rauch-Elnekave
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
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.