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  • Caitlin Ostermeyer

Special needs in public

People will always look to the unknown. They are afraid of it, or it peaks their curiosity and therefore it’s either exciting or intriguing. Human behavior is something that is looked upon and discussed everyday. A group of friends might talk about each other and what they did the other day. A parent and a child walking hand in hand, among other things, are part of the ‘normal’ behavior. However, there are those with what society calls ‘special needs’ that do not follow the typical behavior. For this, I have two examples. In a mall, it’s a casual, public place. People walk along, talking and shopping to their hearts delight. The typical behavior here is to talk to a friend or family member without anyone else overhearing. My brother, on the other hand, has no ability to talk. More specifically, he is unable to form words, but can vocalize and create noises in the simplest forms. Saying “e-duh” is a yes. A simple “duh” is a no. He even can create the right tone in which he is upset or happy. However, when he is extremely happy, these vocalizations go out the window, and are replaced by squeals or tones similar to singing off key. These, unfortunately for us, are extremely loud. On one occasion, my brother, mother and I were in a mall. He got excited, we assumed because he was in a new place, and began to squeal in delight. My mother and I paid no mind, we were used to it after all. But all around us, as we began to notice, people stared. Some in blatant confusion, and some in annoyance. I’ll admit, even as his sister and today, I will become embarrassed. Keep this in mind, I will bring it up later. My mother does not become embarrassed as I do, and instead. She bends down to his level, and talks to him. As I said before, he can understand the tone in which a person is talking. She whispers to him: “Now buddy, we have to be respectful to others, we have to be quiet!” She repeats this phrase for only a minute before my brother reverts to soft giggles of glee. On one occasion, a little boy walked up and stared intently at my brother, as the little toddlers do, with no sense of humility. I didn’t say a word, knowing better, but I did feel a sense of displaced anger, my thought process racing to: “Don’t you know better than to stare, where are your parents, did they not teach you any manners?” Etc, etc. I snapped out of my thoughts when my mother bends down to the toddler with a smile and asked him if he had a question. The toddler, getting attention, immediately replies: “Why does he sound like that?” As I went to answer the question in my head, it dawned on me I had no idea how to talk to a younger kid, how to explain what brain damage was to a child was foriegn. Although not being part of the conversation, I panicked. My mother answered after a quick beat: “Well, he has owies in his brain. These owies never healed, so he acts like a three year old.” The little kid’s eye lit up with amazement and understanding, realizing this kid was just a three year old-but bigger! He ran off to tell his mother and I ended up feeling immense respect for my mom’s answer. Although I still have the sense of protection and misplaced anger, I try to understand who is staring and remind myself of why people stare, before I start saying anything. Here’s the thing I learned from this situation. I will most likely always be annoyed by my brother, and I have talked about this with my parents, while they explained this was typical of siblings to annoy one another., I still feel that it is also a mix of being the ‘normal’ sibling, and being associated with someone else who is a-typical is embarrassing to a fault. I explained this as well, and they told me something that really made me think twice, out of a mix of guilt and realization. They told me to imagine how he would feel. My brother cannot talk, yet I can. My brother cannot walk, yet I can. My brother is still the happiest boy in the world and STILL shows me unconditional love and adoration when I walk in the room, even if I enter multiple times a day. I’ll repeat. I still feel that embarrassment when we are all in public. However, instead of wanting to shush my brother or want him to stop whatever he’s doing, I put up with it. It’s not hurting anybody, it's just because he’s happy and frankly, it’s not anyone I know. Another thing I think about is how he would react if I was the one to be abnormal. Would he put up with it, or tell me to shut up? Well I would want him to do as I did to him, and so I stay silent and let it happen. It’s understandable to feel the way I feel. It’s natural to question the behavior of others who might seem abnormal or atypical. But I have one request, try to find a way to either put up with it, or acknowledge it in a way that makes the two of you comfortable, and happy. If I told my brother to shut up constantly, I may enjoy the quiet, but he wouldn’t. If I didn’t talk and repressed my feelings while he kept squealing, he would be happy, I would not. Any person with special needs will not be totally normal. But that does not mean the people around them are incapable of helping them fit into society. There will most likely be a compromise or workaround that will make the majority happy, but we need to put in the effort. So, as a closing note, I say this: A person with special needs of any kind will be a little different and probably so in public too. But when effort is made to help that person fit into society, it can be emotionally gratifying to both them and the people around them. No matter the severity. So please, put in that effort, even just to show you care, and to educate others about the person you care about so much.


Caitlin Ostermeyer





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