You’ve just finished shopping and are waiting in line to be checked out when you feel something or someone touching your hand. Your first reaction is probably nervousness and maybe a little fear as to who would be doing this socially unacceptable act. However, when you look down at your hand you see a young, innocent child whose attention was drawn to your jewelry. What do you do? If I told you the child in this situation was “special needs,” would it change your reaction?
Keep in mind that your initial reaction to this situation can have a good or adverse affect on this child. The term special needs is used to describe children who might need extra help because of medical, emotional, physical or learning problem. The special need is the help, support or in some cases, 24/7 assistance in order for them to live a balanced and comfortable life. Other support for these children can include medicine, therapy or aides in school or at home. Often times, the simple act of shopping which we enjoy, can become an overwhelming amount of stimulation for these children. Too many distractions such as people, sounds, items, bright lights and movement can cause confusion and frustration for these children.
My niece Saray, now 10 years old, was adopted from Guatemala by my sister and brother-in-law when she was 10 months old. To look at her was to love her. She arrived in the U.S. with olive skin, a little round belly, and lots of hair and a great sense of rhythm when music played. Unfortunately for Saray, she was born into a situation she didn’t ask for, and one that nobody would wish on anyone else. Like any other infant, she needed love, shelter and safety. But for Saray, everything she needed to learn to develop into a healthy child was difficult.
You see, Saray suffers from many problems that affect her health, speech, motor skills and development. Thanks to love, family and a school support team at Summit Educational, she will be blessed with a complete and full life. However, simple things that we take for granted, like shopping or making simple choices can be very difficult for those with special needs.
Recently, my sister and her daughter went to get dessert at the Village Bake Shop in Lewiston before her hair appointment. The dessert was a promise for doing so well in school.
Upon their arrival, my niece was given the opportunity to select what dessert she wanted. I can tell you from experience that my niece loves any type of dessert! However, she is considered a child with special needs and therefore, can be overwhelmed when picking one item from many choices. In this case, one dessert from a huge selection of these sweet, colorful and tasty treats.
The lady behind the counter looked on as my niece touched almost every part of the glass showcase as she searched for her dessert of choice. When her decision was made, she asked the lady for the “pink dessert.” The lady began to pull out pink desserts one-at-a-time for my niece without success. Staying patient, pleasant and adding humor to the situation, she finally came across the right dessert.
As they proceeded to pay the nice lady behind the counter, a gentleman walked out of the back room and began to converse with the lady behind the counter regarding business. My niece’s attention was immediately directed to the man’s jewelry on his wrist and began touching it. Before my sister could react to the situation, the man nodded to her acknowledging that he understood what was going on. Saray then noticed his smart phone and began to touch it. Without missing a beat the man began to show her the phone’s capability, including how it takes great pictures.
When my sister reminded Saray about the time and her hair appointment with Libby at LJ Hair Designs (another caring individual), the kind gentleman offered her a cookie if she listened to her mother. It was then that this wonderful gentleman informed my sister that he wasn’t some stranger who worked at the Village Bake Shop, but the owner himself.
At that moment, it was my sister who became overwhelmed. The lady and the owner showed compassion, kindness, consideration, and most of all understanding towards my niece. This is not often the case for my niece, where stares and glares usually take place.
My niece’s perception of people’s reactions is spot on with a unique ability to see good in others. Although she doesn’t know why people react the way they do, she knows and feels their reactions as negative. It is this reaction which causes an immediate verbal response of: “I don’t feel good … wanna go home.” The Village Bake Shop provided a positive experience for my niece, and more importantly made her feel like she was “special”… one word.
My sister also had a similar experience at Justice in the Boulevard Mall where my niece’s goal was to buy one item she wanted. In this case, it was hand sanitizer in a fancy, clip-on container. As they entered the store, my sister informed the lady behind the counter what the purpose of their visit was … a teachable moment on attention and focus.
Upon returning to the register, the lady behind the counter noticed my niece had achieved her goal of selecting and purchasing the hand sanitizer. Immediately, the lady behind the counter and other nearby employees began to cheer and clap for my niece’s accomplishment. Again, my sister was overwhelmed with the kindness and understanding of this establishment’s employees. Their actions brought a smile to my niece’s face and a sense of pride, while causing a “lump” in my sister’s throat.
In both situations, these business people gave their undivided attention to my niece. They demonstrated empathy and understanding, while paying close attention to her needs and reactions. When you think about it on the simplest level, isn’t that what customer service is all about?
Service like this not only speaks volumes about their character, but certainly creates a warm environment that my niece and others continue to patronize again and again. It is these businesses and their employees that become part of your extended family. You see them often interacting with your child, as if they were visiting relatives or family members. You become close to them and they become close to your child as well as you. Let’s face it, you can’t help but want to know these exceptional people who help others to have a better quality of life. If you miss out on friendship, you miss out on life.
In knowing these people, you create a network of individuals and other families with the same needs. Each family or individual can share their experiences, frustrations, triumphs and lessons learned in a support network. It is through this sharing that helps parents cope with their child’s disability in a positive, compassionate, and results-oriented manner.
Author Lewis Carroll once said: “One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” Yes. There will always be those that don’t get it or don’t care; however, there are many that do get it and do care. And, it is those people whose human decency and understanding make you believe that your child will be okay in this world…and so will you. It’s a comfort to know that these people exist and willingly share their kindness and understanding with those who need it the most.
Joseph T. Pillittere Jr. is a Little Valley resident. He is a former Lewiston resident.