When a Special Needs Child Grows Up

We’re getting ready to visit the dentist. Regular readers are familiar with our trials and challenges finding a dentist who has patience to work Matthew. Today it is just another cleaning but I know the cap on one of his teeth is chipped and they’ll be wanting to fix it. Since I discovered the chip I’ve been thinking about this new challenge. Though Matthew is an adult he still acts irrationally when it comes to messing in his mouth. The only difference between taking him to the dentist today and from when he was five is that he is stronger and weighs more.

It’s a challenge.

Today’s reality was brought to the forefront when I read a story in the New York Post this morning. A handicapped man, one who graduated from high school in their special education program, and was arrested last week.

His crime?

Laughing too loud. Yes, it’s true. You can read the story here: New York Post. This 42 year old special needs adult was given a summons for disturbing the peace and faces jail time for his chortles. The charges were brought by a neighbor who apparently sees this man as an object for ridicule as the report says that he, the neighbor, often calls the man names, including retard and worse.

It’s appalling that the police even considered this an offense worthy of a ticket. But it’s not a surprise. And the neighbor’s actions are not completely unexpected. When a child has special needs most people accept or tolerate his inappropriate actions or words. But when that child grows up many more take personal offense and are affronted that this ‘adult’ does not know how to act in public or doesn’t ‘act his age.’


Every day we work on this with Matthew. Sometimes he fits right in, working a tough puzzle or interacting correctly while shopping.

But other times he’d rather don a superhero costume and pretend he’s battling bad guys.

Of course, we all like to indulge our fantasies but save wearing costumes for Halloween. It’s not seen as appropriate for adults to do otherwise. And while we have never had a neighbor so intolerant as to call the police, we have had neighbors who would not interact with Matthew, choosing to ignore him or mutter under their breath when he appeared.

Just like normal children, those with special needs grow up. Some disabilities cause them to act out their frustrations with unruly behavior. Some of my friends with special needs adults find that their children’s sensitivity to sounds or crowds or difficulty following direction choose to keep them out of the public arena. It’s a difficult choice and one they don’t make lightly. Our own family often chooses not to participate in certain activities where we know Matthew might act out, drawing attention to himself or causing a disruption.

Still, inappropriate behavior does happen and when it does others, including first responders, often are at a loss what to do. Unfortunately, there are a myriad of sad tales where a non-verbal autistic person becomes violent only to have the police or hospital staff resort to handcuffs and shackles or worse. As a mom I am crushed when I hear these stories but I know if a special needs person weighing 200 pounds acts in a dangerous fashion those around him may react in a way that further escalates the problem. Just last week there was a 14 year old whose mother took him to the emergency room for sickness but found that the large child’s behavior cause hospital staff to cuff him to the bed.

There is no easy answer for this, even with heightened awareness, those in charge can’t always control our grown special needs children. And like parents everywhere, sometimes even we can’t control their actions.

But well behaved or not, they still need to be loved.

Fiesta Bowl 050

So what’s my point today? As usual I don’t really have one. But if you know someone with a special needs child, either teen or adult, who has grown out of the ‘acceptable behavior stage’ please offer them some compassion.

And for what it’s worth, Matthew did well at the dentist. Sat in the chair, let the hygienist clean and polish his teeth, let the dentist take a look. Everything but the x-rays. So we came home with our own piece of x-ray film and will practice until June. But…it’s progress.