You Don’t Have To Feel Embarrassed About Your Screaming Child

Nov 22, 2021

I took my daughter to our local mosque for the first time when she was one-and-a-half years old.

I was nervous.

Attending a sermon with a curious and confident busy body seemed like a daunting task, but I was determined. I wanted to introduce her to our community, to the centre where we would pray and celebrate Eid and break our fasts together for years to come.

So, when my toddler decided she had her own plans during the sermon and began running, twirling and screaming, I was not at all surprised.

But the embarrassment I felt was still paralyzing. I was overwhelmed.

It felt as though all eyes were on us. I was certain that we would be called out as disruptive and disrespectful and would soon be asked to leave.

In that moment, I remembered that this was not the first time I was with a child displaying behaviours that received glances within the same four walls of this mosque.

One of Paula Schuck's adopted children was born with FASD. If you are unaware of what that means, here's what it's like.

A History of Volunteerism

I have volunteered with Muslim kids and youth with special needs, including autism and Down syndrome, for years.

One of the goals of the mosque’s special needs program is to help children with disabilities integrate into various activities within the mosque.

Many institutions, like faith-based centres, often neglect to account for families with disabilities who wish to participate and the additional resources that they would need in order to do so, like one-to-one buddies, extra classes to learn concepts in a developmentally appropriate way or sign language services.

I remember assisting one child during Ramadan — he is an autistic child, and yelled out during class, perhaps because he was not yet comfortable in his new environment.

"I took this a bit personally and was upset at the idea of singling him out instead of embracing him."

I remember receiving feedback from the teacher that he was taking attention away from the lesson, and that perhaps he would benefit from being in a separate class.

I took this a bit personally and was upset at the idea of singling him out instead of embracing him.

This experience, among many others, really sent home the idea that parents of children with disabilities advocate for their children every single day, receiving pushback along the way.

It can be so much better for these families.

It Can Be Difficult, But Block Out the Perception of Others

My daughter will be disruptive. She will act unpredictably. She will challenge authority and the status quo. But isn’t this what most kids would do?

As I see it, there is no reason to feel embarrassed for these very normal behaviours.

I think this feeling can come from holding unrealistic expectations of kids of all abilities.

My challenge was not in managing my daughter’s behaviour. My challenge was to create a space that accommodates her and allows her to thrive and feel safe for being herself, just like the special needs program at our mosque aimed to do.

And sometimes, such a space is not a physical one, but rather a perceptual one. If others are judgmental, show displeasure or fail to understand our needs, so be it.

By holding our space and showing up, we demonstrate what it means for our family to be a part of a community.

And a good sense of community can be invaluable for any parent.

Explore and Encourage A Kid's Unique Personality and Abilities

I remind myself that every kid is different because it helps me escape the comparison trap.

Other kids may have started to master feeding themselves with a spoon, while my daughter constantly wants me to do it, with her call of: “mama do it.”

And that’s OK.

Because I also know that she is a chatty Cathy with a large vocabulary and started stringing sentences together at a young age. I know she is ruthless in demanding screen time, and she is fearless at the playground and challenges herself to try equipment well beyond her age.

As a special needs volunteer, exploring each child’s unique personality and encouraging their unique abilities is the cardinal principle, focus and driving force behind everything I have done.

"I have learned to be intrigued by her own personal trajectory and let her take the lead."

There is no cookie-cutter set of activities that works for everyone, not only because each child is developing at a unique level, but simply because each child is interested in different things.

One autistic youth enjoyed cutting and pasting pictures, while another loved serving chai to the mosque attendees. When I was able to learn about their personality and highlight their skills, the time we spent together was that much more productive and fun.

Truly engaging kids meant understanding what lit up their eyes and kept them wanting to come back the next day.

In the same way, instead of second-guessing my daughter’s achievements in some domains or her refusal to do certain things, I have learned to be intrigued by her own personal trajectory and let her take the lead.

This takes a lot of trial and error.

Be Flexible and Understand That There is a Learning Curve 

When I began as a volunteer, I was intimidated.

There is a level of engagement and commitment required to understand a child's likes and dislikes, and even more so for kids who are non-verbal and may not be able to express their emotions.

There were many times when I did not want to show up to volunteer because of the sheer level of energy I needed to muster to do justice to my role.

But the more time I spent with each child, the more I was able to understand them and the easier it became for us both.

We began to build upon a relationship together, and the feeling of immeasurable joy that came with seeing a child finally complete a task that they were reluctant to try for weeks, or having my hand held to express that they felt safe with me, was what kept me coming back to volunteer year after year.

The same rings true at home.

My Motherhood Journey

I will admit to being intimidated as a mother, of spending entire days alone with my daughter.

I did not always know how to occupy her time. I did not always understand what she wanted from me. But now, on days where I am at a complete loss and lay on the floor exhausted, my daughter will sometimes come over to me with a blanket and pat me as if she just “gets me.”

And those blissful moments are a testimony to how we have grown together.

Raising a child with an invisible disability means that people can look at your child in negative ways. The stares and eye rolling are some things Paula Schuck has had enough of.

Share In Moments of Joy

Remembering to find the joy has helped make difficult moments worthwhile.

I think it goes without saying that parenting is challenging, and I often reflect on the challenges that many families face, including those I have volunteered with.

Ultimately, whether they are verbal or non-verbal, have a physical or invisible disability, are meeting their milestones on a pre-determined schedule or are achieving them later, children of all abilities share similar needs for compassion, safety and encouragement.

They actively seek joy and bring it out in others.

You do not need to be a volunteer to see what I’ve seen, which is how spending time with people, and getting on the ground at their level, can open up new opportunities for growth.

Because once a child gives you a window into what makes them happy, the possibilities are endless.

Article Author Zehra Kamani
Zehra Kamani

Zehra Kamani is a Toronto-based freelance writer and first-time mother of a vivacious girl. She holds a Master's degree in psychology and works as a researcher at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Zehra is passionate about making small, but meaningful, contributions to her community and thereby impacting society at large. She also believes in the importance of sharing stories and learning from others' unique experiences. You can find more of her work on Today's ParentThe Muslim Link and Thrive Global.

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