Willms says OSNS is seeing an increasing number of children being referred for anxiety related issues. In fact, we are hosting workshops for young kids and their parents in February. You can learn more about that program here.
Also, parents who have to refer their children to OSNS have a certain level of anxiety themselves. It can be especially difficult for parents whose children have developmental disabilities that others can’t see. If you notice a child in a local grocery store or at a crosswalk having a meltdown, you may not understand what is happening behind the scenes. This adds a huge amount of stress and anxiety to a parent in public.
Willms is asking residents to do two things:
1 - Consider you don’t know the entire story
2 - Remember you have the power to change that person’s day
Children as young as three and four in our community are experiencing various types of anxiety. For example, a child with special needs may not understand language in order to calm down. Also, lots of kids’ sensory systems are built differently. For them, certain sounds, smells, even bright lights, can cause the same stress you would feel by listening to ear-piercing nails on a chalkboard.
Anxiety for parents also manifests in many forms for countless reasons. For example, a parent who learns their child has a certain challenge, grieves for the loss of what they thought the future would look like. They feel powerless to fix it. They feel long term anxiety, wondering if their child will have a best friend, fall in love, nurture real relationships. This is on top of wondering if their child will learn to speak, play sports, go to mainstream school etc. All of these concerns and anxiety build in parents in our community.
Those on the outside looking in expect kids to act a certain way, but they don’t. Willms says how we react to those kids measures us, to an extent, as a people. We want to build compassionate communities, but we often forget our power in the moment to do so.
When you see a child melt down, instead of judging, consider you many not know their story. Lots of kids have challenges you can’t see and also consider the power you have to improve that moment.
Willms says the ripple effect of of a dirty look is terrible. That parents is already having a tough time and knowing others are judging can send one’s anxiety into a downward spiral.
To improve the situation, Willms says you can be passively positive by offering a smile or a nod to let the person know you aren’t judgemental. Or, to take it one step further, ask if you can help. The answer will probably be no, but you have supported the parent and the child with a simple gesture.
Willms says the stigma of developmental disabilities is improving, but we still have a long way to go. Small gestures can go a long way to comforting local parents.
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”