Four Ways to Show Love to a Special Needs Child - On Valentine's Day and Everyday
My oldest son, Nasko, was our first child with special needs. We adopted him from a less-than-ideal orphanage when he was five years old. Because of his cognitive diagnoses and because of his abusive past, he's had no way to understand the abstract concept of love. So, we've had to get a bit creative.
Today, I thought I could share four ways we have shown love to our special needs son. I know other families with special needs children will benefit from these tips as well!
1. Find fun things you can do together - even if they are unconventional.
Because of Nasko's tendency to be attracted to danger, there are less and less things that he and I can do together without fearing for his safety, or the safety of other children.
Despite the challenge, I still believe it is important to find activities he and I could do collectively.
The other day, I was standing in our kitchen, preparing to paint my fingernails. Nasko walked over, and began looking intently at each colored bottle. He asked question after question about my filing and painting process. I finally asked if he'd like me to file and paint his nails (clear!).
He beamed with excitement.
Nasko rarely stands still, but he stood motionless through the entire process. I, in turn, got to be in close proximity with my boy, devoting to him my full attention.
And he ended up with nice-looking nails.
Giving a nine-year-old boy a manicure isn't the most conventional bonding activity, but our love grew through that time together. Look for things you and your child can do together without fear or worry, so that you will both experience love during your interactions.
2. Give love a definition.
On many occasions, I have turned bright red with embarrassment as Nasko, mid-bite, asks our dinner guests to leave and go home.
Nasko thrives on routine and stability, so usually he is asking for our friends to leave so that his little life can return to being as predictable as possible.
After he attempted to kick out numerous friends and guests, I sat him down and explained that he was not being "hospitable."
When he looked perplexed, I showed him the word in sign language, and then attempted to describe it. I eventually said, "Hospitable means: we share our food, we share our beds, and we share our toys. People can stay as long as they would like."
Over the course of a year or so, we practiced this definition every time we had dinner guests — sometimes even in front of them! :—) Our embarrassing dinner questions have decreased, and Nasko actually understands the abstract concept of hospitality. He has memorized the definition, and regularly recites it to himself as a reminder to be polite.
Recently, we've started using a similar definition for love. Love means: caring for (the other person) even more than you care for (yourself).
"Love means: caring for Edward even more than you care for Nasko."
"Love means: caring for Mama even more than you care for Nasko."
Breaking down the abstract concept of love, and repeating its definition over and over, can help your special needs child grasp its meaning in a more concrete way.
3. Ask for permission to show your love in a physical way.
Because Nasko has an autism that contains a sensory-processing diagnosis, he is very particular about physical touch. He loves to have his back scratched, but is resistant to hugs and kisses. He doesn't mind sitting close, but he usually doesn't want to hold hands.
Hugs, kisses, and hand-holding are universal ways to demonstrate love, but Nasko experiences the opposite emotions when he is confined or restricted by an embrace. As his mother, I desire to express my love in these ways though, so to show Nasko how much I love him, I always ask for permission first. I wait for him to grant me his permission to approach him.
He may not feel loved at the moment when I am embracing him (no matter how much I want him to!), but I know he feels loved and respected when I have requested his approval to enter his personal space.
4. Teach them the right words to say.
It wasn't until my youngest, neuro-typical son turned two, and started saying, "I love you too, Mama," I realized my oldest son had never returned that affectionate verbal expression.
In that moment, it also dawned on me, I had never taught him to do so.
Most typically-developing toddlers will repeat back "I love you," to their parents. Nasko with his special needs, however, did not automatically pick up on those social cues.
So one night, Nasko and I made a game of saying, "I love you too." I'd say it to him, and then if he said it back, I would tickle him. No response meant no tickles!
It may seem like cheating to tell your child exactly what to say to express love, but our special needs kids struggle with communication in so many other areas, it's logical to think they might need help in expressing affection as well.
Special needs kids require special parenting, and expressing love to them is no different. Use these four tips to help ensure your Valentine's Day is filled with love!
If you don't mind, hover your mouse over the picture in this post, and pin it to your personal Pinterest page. Thanks for your help in making other special needs families' Valentine's Days a little more loving!