November 20, 2014

By:  Melissa Sadin

Children with Hidden ChallengesI recently took my son, TS, on a mission trip with the church youth group.   The group was to spend four days helping to prepare a camp in the NJ Pine Barrens for opening day. It was a challenge for my son because he does not do well with unfamiliar places and he had to sleep in a bare bones cabin with four other boys. He expressed his feelings of insecurity by becoming very rude and disrespectful with a lot of pretty aggressive cursing.  All the while, however, continuing to complete his assigned tasks, which I took as a huge success. Although I was able to intervene and help him reclaim some feelings of safety, he got to a point on the third day where he was extremely verbally inappropriate.

What struck me was not the challenges faced by my son, I expected that.  What I forgot to factor in was the response by the other two adults on the trip.  Both of them have known TS for years.  But the assistant pastor only saw him on Sundays and the other male chaperone only knew him on the baseball field as a teammate of his son.  Since he does not look “different”, they had no idea of the challenges he faced and how aggressive his behavior could become seemingly without warning.

Sometimes I wish our kids came with a warning label.  When a child has physical features that distinguish their challenges, society tilts their head to the collective side and says, “Awwww.”  They adjust their expectations and in most cases tolerate inappropriate behavior. But when your handsome 16 year old, who is more disabled than any of the kids with downs syndrome I have had the privilege of teaching over the years, curses loudly in a store, the general public has no reason to apply a different set of expectations. In addition, children with attachment trauma are often superficially very charming so there is the added challenge of trying to convince people that they are, in fact, very disabled by their trauma.

I am proud and not a little relieved to say that TS made it through the week of Mission.  And I have to say that I think the chaperone and the assistant pastor are now walking the world with a new understanding of children with developmental trauma. I thank them for their determined efforts to understand my son.

As if the challenges we face raising our children weren’t enough, we have the added challenge of educating the world, one person at a time.  I’m so glad I am not alone.

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