Special Educational Needs (SEN) Parenting And The Use Of Social Media Sharing
By Stephanie Swann
Sharing information and photographs of our children on social media is a subject that many people will have varying opinions on whether their child is neurotypical or has additional needs or disabilities. I think this is a parenting mine field, one in which some parents choose not to enter at all, others enter cautiously and some do not consider it to be a concern to think much about.
So how much is too much sharing? It can be tricky to find the balance when as SEN parents and advocates. Most of us have a desire to use these public forums to raise awareness and bring about positive change for our children. Parenting children with disabilities or complex needs, although there are many struggles involved, is a life of beauty and blessings, not just a life of hardships and burdens as some people may perceive it to be.
In my opinion all children are a blessing. I truly believe that raising a child is a privilege that unfortunately not everyone that would like to is lucky enough to experience. Disability/complex needs is just one aspect that makes up the uniqueness of each child. Children with complex needs may have certain limitations, but lamenting them is not helpful to anyone.
I don’t want my son to feel that he is not good enough or is somehow less valued than a neurotypical, able bodied child. The language we use and what we say about them not only affects our kids, but it also creates a narrative in our minds that affects our own perceptions. I want my narrative to be one of beauty and blessings. I want my narrative to become the narrative of everybody that is involved with my son, I want that to be what shapes the ways in which they treat him and interact with him.
As SEN parents we are role models to those around us. If what we say about our children is always filled with suffering and hardships, other people will naturally come to assume that our lives are terrible and difficult all the time. Of course It’s OK to share the hard parts, parenting is hard. We also have more obstacles and challenges to deal with that come as part and parcel of this life. Most people do not truly understand the extra things that come with parenting children with complex needs, so of course we should share what some of our challenges are in order to raise awareness and bring about real change. But that cannot become all that we share with the world.
When we open up a window into our lives to share with others, we become the eyes from which other people view our children. I want people to see what I see when I look at my son; his beautiful personality, his many quirks and qualities that make him who he is and not pity him for his limitations and disabilities. He is a person before his diagnosis.
I think it is important that we share truthfully but not at the expense of our children. I’m all for sharing experiences that will encourage other parents, but not if those stories come at the expense of the respect children rightfully deserve or their dignity. Some stories are private, some struggles are more suitably shared in confidence rather than via social media. Kids with disabilities are just as much a blessing as any other children are, so it is imperative that we protect them and treat them as such on these public platforms. As with any young child, they do not have the means to consent to what is being put out there of them for the world and his next door neighbour to see. I think it is crucial that as parents we give some real thought to what we are putting online before we hit the share button, as once it is out there it is out there. I think a lot of consideration should be made about what is appropriate and if we would like somebody to post a similar thing of us on the internet? If the answer is no then we probably shouldn’t be posting it of our children.
This life we live as carers alongside disability/complex needs is certainly not a lesser life. Disability is by no means a tragedy. What is tragic is how society as a whole views disability. There is no denying that the internet is a powerful tool for raising public awareness. However, it is our job as parents and advocates to show the world what a joy our kids are, disabilities and all. But it is also our responsibility to do this in a mindful and appropriate way.