DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Muddled Mommy in Miami" (Sept. 21) really hit home. A child with Down syndrome had made an inappropriate remark to the writer's 4-year-old son.
I'm the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome. There have often been situations in which she has said or done something inappropriate to another child. I try to intervene when I know about it. I have her apologize to the child and the parent and try to make amends. Sometimes, it turns out that she was misunderstood because of poor speech and language skills.
By all means, Muddled Mommy should say something! This can be a teaching/learning moment for both her son and the other boy. Many children with developmental disabilities are mainstreamed with regular education children in school. Kids with Down syndrome need to be taught proper social skills so they can have a relationship with their peers.
If children with Down syndrome (or other disabilities) are taught to hold to acceptable societal standards, they can lead productive lives as adults. Isn't that what we want for all of our children?
— MOMMY IN WORTHINGTON, OHIO
DEAR MOMMY: Absolutely! It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children — both abled and disabled — acceptable behavior. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: As the parent of a special-needs child, I have come to realize that learning needs to take place on both sides. The mother of the Down syndrome child should have been told about her son's comments so she could take corrective action. But "Muddled" should also have taken her son aside and explained about children with special needs and disabilities so he could learn tolerance and understanding. Four years old is not too young to start.
We also have younger twins, who, at an early age, asked why their older brother "acts the way he does." In the six years since then, they have grown to be more perceptive and understanding. They are more forgiving of their peers and willing to help those less fortunate — "special" or not. They understand that there are many different types of people in this world, and I believe that knowledge will help make them more enlightened adults.
— CHARLES H., FREMONT, CALIF.
DEAR ABBY: I have been both a special education and a regular education teacher. By approaching the mother of the child who threatened her little boy, the writer could have alerted the mother to inappropriate behaviors that may be preventing her child from having positive peer interactions.
Often children with disabilities repeat what they have heard others say. If the child truly meant what he said about "kicking his butt," then the mother should raise those issues with his teachers and therapists.
— SPECIAL ED TEACHER IN NEVADA
DEAR ABBY: As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, I believe it's important that my daughter be treated like any other child. That includes knowing when she misbehaves. Having an extra chromosome doesn't give her a free pass. My expectations for her do not differ from my other children. Standards should not be lowered because she is differently abled.
What that boy said was inappropriate. Perhaps he heard it at school or from a sibling. Either way, his mother should have been immediately made aware of it. Your advice was right on the money.
— P.W., BIG RAPIDS, MICH.
DEAR ABBY: I've worked with people with disabilities for 15 years. They have difficulty learning social skills. Sometimes they learn a phrase and repeat it over and over without realizing its impact. What the child said might have been a defense mechanism to keep others from picking on him. In any case, others should not ignore inappropriate behavior just because the person appears to have a mental disability.
— AMY IN KANSAS CITY
P Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.