Well, that sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, what else would they be?! However, when it comes to how society as a whole treats them, the reality seems rather different.
A baby smiles. Sweet, right? Oh, but it’s just gas, they say. They aren’t capable of smiling.
A baby is having blood drawn and is crying. Oh, but the nurse says it doesn’t hurt him. Sure, he may look like he’s in pain, he may be acting like he’s in pain, but he isn’t really, so we don’t need to do anything to comfort him.
A toddler is melting down in a public place. Instead of thinking he needs comfort, someone decides to get in his face and mock him, telling him to stop faking it.
A toddler fidgets during Sunday Mass, and forgets to whisper when pointing out the images in the stained glass windows. Someone says the child shouldn’t be anywhere near the front where people can see and hear her unless the child can be as perfect as a doll.
A child doesn’t wish to speak to a stranger (or a person they just don’t see on a regular basis). Instead of understanding her discomfort, she is shamed into it.
A parent has a set schedule of how things are going to go that morning. When the toddler doesn’t want to get his shoes on, the parent gets exasperated, even angry, instead of realizing that the child isn’t an automaton and has his own ideas about the schedule. No, he can’t just ignore his sensory issues with his shoes, and no, fighting about it won’t help anything.
As you might have noticed, these are all things my children and/or I have experienced. Our children, of course, have to do some things they would rather not do (such as putting on shoes to go on an errand), just as we adults must also do things we’d rather not do. We have to teach and help our children through this, of course. But let us not lose sight of the fact that they are fully human, with all the emotions and desires and needs of all humans. They may not be able to control their emotions as well, their needs may overwhelm them at times, but we must respect their humanity and gently teach them.