I grew up in a time when people were not very politically correct or overly sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. It was very common to address people based on some physical characteristic that was prominent. The short one was usually addressed as “Kulla” (which means short in Tamil), the tall one may be “nattay kokku” (Tall crane) and the fat one “gundu” (No points for guessing right here. “Gundu” means fat in Tamil). Those were the decent nicknames. More often than not, nicknames were worse, but the worst ones were reserved for children who were mentally challeged – people who could not even defend themselves.
So, it is not a great surprise when, many years ago, I did not get the drift when somebody referred to another’s child as a special child. When I asked some other adult what was special about the child, they (quite insensitively, in line with the times) explained to me that special child was just a euphemism for a mentally disabled child.
It was only years later, after growing up and having a child of my own, did I truly understand why they are called special children. I realized that all children are special, of course, and that each one comes with a custom build character and has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncracies. And that special children are special in ways that are not as common and thus require additional care and loving.
Today, I see parents of special children dealing with them with the sensitivity and patience required and succeeding in highlighting what is truly special about them. The biggest common traits I see among such parents are, one, they have all been able to truly accept their children as they are, and two, are able to calmly manage the behaviour of their special children, whether it is withdrawal on one extreme, or hyper-activity at the other.
Just as special children require our understanding and care, those of us with parents with neurological conditions need to realize that our parents are “special parents” too.
We need to accept that people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, or other forms of dementia are not trying the make life difficult for their children and care givers. They have become more difficult to handle because of neurological changes and conditions that they have no control over.
Here’s hoping we all have the patience, resilience, and strength of mind to look after our special parents and ensure that they have a caring and loving family around them till the end.