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How children with additional needs are like different ice creams

When we try to change a child with additional needs, we can end up losing their identity, all that makes them ‘them’.

Photo: [link]Vincent Creton[/link], Unsplash CC0.

Nothing says ‘summer’ more than ice cream. Just hearing the distinctive tones of the ice cream van evokes memories of sunny days, long holidays, relaxing in the garden, the park, or at the beach!

We have an ice cream van that regularly visits our street, and a recent visit got me thinking about how our children with additional needs are like ice cream. Curious? Here’s why…

As the ice cream van arrived, it was playing its music (it was in ‘old school’ mode, so we got the ‘Match Of The Day’ theme tune, maybe because England were playing Germany later that evening).

As an aside, this reminded me of the parents that told their kids that when the ice cream van was playing music it meant that they had run out of ice cream!!

Clearly not having been told that ‘alternative truth’, a queue formed by the ice cream van, children and adults all eager to choose their favourites.

There wasn’t only one kind of ice cream, one ‘normal’ style and flavour, there were lots of different types, all different yet all offering something interesting and exciting. It got me thinking about our children with additional needs.

So often children with additional needs are forced to conform, to mimic their peers, to be as ‘normal’ as possible, to fit in with everyone else. It’s a bit like suggesting that a ‘fab’ ice lolly become a ’99 flake’.

Apart from this being impossible, it would lose all the tangy citrus flavour and bright colours of the ‘fab’. The stick would have to try to become a cone. It would be completely different and lose all that it was. It wouldn’t be able to remain a ‘fab’ and yet it wouldn’t be able to become a ’99 flake’ either.

It’s a bit like that when we try to change a child with additional needs. We can end up losing their identity, all that makes them ‘them’, and still not see them become someone else, someone we might ‘want’ them to be.

It’s impossible, and it can be really harmful too, creating stress and anxiety for children who may feel rejected for who they are, and who may struggle to find their identity as they are forced to try to become someone they are not.

As I watched people walking away from the ice cream van with their purchases, I noticed that they were all choosing different things; yes, there were ’99 flakes’ and ‘fabs’, but there were also ‘Calippos’, ‘Magnums’, ‘Feasts’, ‘choc ices’, and ‘Twisters’. Someone was heading off with several ‘Soleros’.

How boring it would have been if there was only one type of ice cream available from the van. If that ‘alternative truth’ that I mentioned earlier had almost been the reality and all that the van had left was ’99 flakes’.

How boring it would be if all of our children were the same, were whatever ‘normal’ is supposed to be, if there wasn’t the diversity and difference that children with additional needs bring to our world.

Yes, I know those differences can sometimes be hard. To perhaps stretch the ice cream analogy a bit too far, we have those days when our ice cream ends up upside down on the pavement, but there are also the days when we realise just how wonderful that diversity and difference is too… days that are more.. well… ‘fab’!

So, next time you hear an ice cream van, whether it’s playing ‘Match Of The Day’ or ‘Greensleeves’, go and get one, and choose something different for a change.

As you are enjoying it, have a think about your own child’s differences and diversities too, and how they were never meant to be just a ’99 flake’!

Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.




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