Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Helmet

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Helmet

Article excerpt

I've had a love/hate relationship with the helmet from the start. At first, I resented the fact that Mike needed to wear one at all. The first plastic ones the physical therapist showed me looked so clinical and strange. They were also inappropriate for our humid southern climate. Mike would sweat profusely whenever he wore his new headgear.

We shopped around in many toy and bike shops to find just the right helmet. For a few months, he wore one that seemed to need adjusting every time he sneezed. After further experimentation, we bought the helmet he now wears. Despite its startling red color, it is more forgiving and needs less attention than any other we'd tried.

Like most parents, I hated the idea of my child needing any special equipment that would instantly allow him to be labeled as "different" or having "special needs." While a helmet is not as obvious an aid as a wheelchair or hearing aid, there still aren't many children toddling around with one. But after Mike fell against a glass table at the bank and needed 12 stitches, my husband and I decided the protection his helmet provided was more important than the stares, questions and comments it elicited.

When strangers at restaurants and other public places would ask about the helmet, my responses ranged from simple explanations of Mike's situation to outright rudeness. I wondered whether people using wheelchairs, walkers or other, more standard aids got as many foolish questions as we did, and why strangers felt they had the right to know everything about my child.

I remember the time when just as someone asked about the helmet, Mike tripped over a nonexistent piece of dirt and fell to the floor. "I can see why he needs it!" one of them said, and they all laughed. It bothers me enough that he needs the helmet, but stupid comments like this hurt a lot also.

These days I have a more assertive attitude about handling situations with the helmet. Last month, I took Mike and his brother to a local indoor playground that had slides, ball pits to jump in, and mazes to climb through. We were having fun until an employee approached us. Another patron had complained that the helmet had "bumped" her child and the manager wanted me to either remove the helmet or else "watch Mike like a hawk." As if I don't always watch Mike as carefully as I can when I'm in these places! …

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