Unwanted advice, insensitive comments: What parents of children with special needs face daily | #specialneeds | #kids

Earlier last month, an airline denied boarding to a boy with special needs and his family on a Hyderabad-bound flight at the Ranchi airport. The incident was reported by Manisha Gupta, a passenger waiting to board another flight. In the Facebook post, she wrote, “Recently, at the Ranchi airport, an adolescent with special needs, was in great distress. He had a very uncomfortable car ride to the airport. By the time he had gone through security check and reached the gate (almost an hour ahead of boarding), he seemed to be in the throes of hunger, thirst, anxiety and confusion. His parents obviously knew how to handle his meltdown – with patience, some cajoling, some sternness, many hugs, etc. And the other passengers were stopping by to ask if they needed any help or support.”

She added, “This caught the attention of a staff member from the airline, who walked up to the family, and warned them that he would not let them board, if the child did not quieten down and become ‘normal’. While the other passengers, including a delegation of doctors on the flight asked the ground staff to get the airport doctor to take a call on the fitness of the child, the family was not allowed to travel because ‘he was in a state of panic’.”

The incident not only brought to light the insensitivity of the airline staff, but also the treatment that is meted out to people with special needs and their families on a daily basis.

'Avoid staring or giving unwanted advice'

‘We need empathy, not sympathy’

Agreeing that this is something that parents with a special needs child go through every day, Upasana Mahtani Luthra, a resident of Gurgaon, says, “It may not be in such a big proportion as this incident but we do get a lot of stares. If the child does not behave in a certain way, or is loud, it becomes difficult. It is important to sensitise people that there are kids like this who can have a full-grown meltdown. What may seem like a tantrum to you is something that they cannot deal with. One thing we don’t need as parents to children with special needs is sympathy, we need empathy.”
‘The mindset needs to change’

Pooja Sharma, a Gurgaon resident, who has an elder brother with an intellectual disability, says, “I realised that the lack of opportunities (for those with special needs) boils down to a lack of awareness because no matter how much capacity building we do as families, a person will not be able to function independently unless the environment changes. And the environment does not necessarily change with one awareness session in six months that is organised in corporate offices; the mindset needs to change. What happened recently at the airport may have happened to anyone. I feel that there should be more awareness but not just at that level, but on a family level as well.”

‘Our society’s definition of what is normal is very narrow’

'Sensitisation is important'

Anushree Shivpuri, a resident of Sector 24 in Gurgaon, shares, “My son is five-year-old and is non-verbal. When we tell people that he is autistic and non-verbal, the common reaction is, ‘What happened?’, ‘Have you tried this or that?’, etc. Some have even called him “rude”. He is very mild in the autistic spectre, but for people, it is about getting to the extremes. When he is on the playground, he is very excited but I have seen people move away from their kids because he is behaving a little differently. Our definition of what is ‘normal’ is so narrow that we don’t accept easily anything which is a bit different. As a parent, I think it is important for people to know the difference between physical disability and neuro disability. A physical disability can be seen very clearly, but neuro disabilities are difficult to see and people need to be sensitised about it.”

‘Sensitisation is important’
Mumbai resident Rohini Subramanian Katriar and mother of a child with special needs shares, “My son has sensory issues, he was not verbal for the longest time, so a child like him can get overwhelmed sometimes. He is 11 now, and has flown multiple times, both domestically and internationally, that we are kind of over with these issues. However, when he was younger, among the common issues we faced, included standing in long queues. Once somebody at the airport said, ‘Aap isko ek thappad laga dijiye, samajh jayega’,” she says. She adds sensitisation about the children with special needs among other passengers is also important. “Every time I used to enter an airport, I had to mentally tell myself that it does not matter what people think. You feel naked that people are looking at you, so many people turn around and ask, ‘Kya khaya tha pregnancy mein? Kyun aisa ho gaya hai?”

‘Avoid staring or giving unwanted advice to us’

Charu Sharan, a resident of Sector 54, Gurgaon, and a mother to a 26-year-old, says, “The first thing people can do is to avoid staring, and giving parents the benefit of doubt that they know how to handle the situation. Don’t try to give advice, just give them space. It’s not easy, if you can’t help, don’t comment, or make the situation worse. And the airlines can probably speed up the security process, can have a separate ticket counter for them, or a badge that can say ‘special needs person’, so that wherever that kid goes, there is help available.”

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