Growing Up With Special Needs

Every Persian parent’s dream is to have their child become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But what happens when you already know that there is little chance of that happening? It’s often devastating for parents to receive news that their child has some sort of special needs.

Special needs come in various forms: autism, epilepsy, down syndrome, etc. Some people’s special needs are more visible than others and many are high-functioning (those are the people many often name-call as “slow” or “weird”). There are some who even fall through the cracks; their special needs go undetected.

In any culture, parents tend to refuse to acknowledge their child’s problems in hopes of it magically disappearing. Either that, or…

marry them off when they’re a bit older

(I’ve seriously seen that happen).

Growing up, I have been surrounded by Middle Eastern families who have had a child with special needs. We knew a family whose son had something as simple as ADHD, but his parents were too afraid to put him on medication. After getting kicked out of a series of schools, he fell into a group of not-so-good-kids and became addicted to prescription pills. This addiction took him years to recover. It was only after their son had fallen into deep trouble, that his family finally intervened, then ended up sending him overseas to marry and start a family.

I also know plenty of students whose grades have dropped, simply because their parents refused to put them on medication or were “too tired” to help them with homework. This attitude is prominent among especially Middle Eastern families.

We indirectly blame people with special needs for something that is beyond their control.

girlIn Middle Eastern culture, there is this sense of “shame” if you have to take medication or see a therapist for whatever reason.

My sister was diagnosed with epilepsy as a small child; my parents were shocked. She used to have seizures and his behavior is a few years behind most girls her age. She sometimes laughs uncontrollably and says things that don’t make a lot of sense and are, sometimes, cringe-worthy.

When she tried out for the basketball team, 13 girls tried out; 12 made it. The only person not picked was the girl with special needs. We often deal with people being either discriminatory or unnecessarily over-accommodating to the point that it’s embarrassing. I was always jealous when I saw sisters sharing secrets and doing activities together; I felt that I could never connect to my sister.

The mental gap was wider than our five-year age difference.

My family didn’t play the bullshit game of “ignore it and it will go away”; they invested in extracurricular activities along with therapy in order for her to learn and grow. I decided that it was up to me what kind of relationship we wanted to have. I started attending her sports games and attempting conversation inside the home. I stood guard when possible, if I felt that she was being made fun of.

She is now in a top position for the girls’ sports team and sometimes the boys’ team. She has dreams of finishing her education and pursuing a career.

Although I do not know the feeling of having children, I know one thing should be for sure: You love and support your child, no matter how they were born.

I am still learning how to be “friends” rather than housemates with my sister. When your parents die, your siblings are what you have left. I want to be close with my sister even when I am older.





SARAH سارا

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  1. This was a great article. It touches upon the reality of the stigma attached to special needs in eastern cultures and also the sad truth that people, even loved ones do not know how to behave around and with these kids. I loved it.

  2. You want people not to generalize and stigmatize persons with special needs, yet you do the same by grouping all middle eastern cultures together.

  3. Thanks so much, Sherry! It is definitely something that needs to change in our culture. The saddest part is that it really is beyond the child’s control. I’m glad you enjoyed it!
    Arak, I was just speaking from experience and trying to exemplify that it is in fact a problem in all Middle Eastern countries, not just Iran. I wanted to show examples from different ethnicities to try and prove my point. Thanks for reading! -Sarah :)

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