How to Be a Friend to Someone with Special Needs

A cartoon illustration of a boy with special needs walking a duck on a leash.
Have you ever had a classmate who does things a bit differently than you do? Maybe they walk with a limp or they process information in their own way. You want to make friends with this person, but you feel awkward because you’re afraid you might accidentally offend them. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the world of people with limited mobility, neurodivergence, and genetic conditions. We’ll clue you in on what really offends them and how they prefer that people interact with them. Let’s go!
Our guide is Ekaterine Shabutskaya, a physical therapist and specialist in neurological challenges. Her daughter lives with cerebral palsy.

How It Feels to Be Different

Try going outside with bright makeup on your face or wearing unusual clothing, such as a rainbow onesie or pink bunny pajamas. How would people look at you?

This is how people with limited mobility often feel when they’re out in public: they’re met with curiosity, fear, and sometimes disapproval. People either stare or turn away. Strangers are afraid to speak with them, smile at them, or ask for directions. This is one of the reasons why people with special needs sometimes prefer not to experience certain social interactions that most of us enjoy. 

People with disabilities prefer not to experience certain social interactions that most of us enjoy.
People with disabilities may not be accepted by society because of their unusual behavior

Depending on where they live, another reason is that many people simply find it very difficult to get around the city. Even today, subways, building entrances, and sidewalks in some areas are not wheelchair-accessible nor safe for people with walkers. Some buildings are constructed without ramps or elevators. Even if there is an elevator, sometimes it’s not big enough for a person with a wheelchair to enter and freely maneuver inside. 

Because of this, some people with limited mobility prefer to stay home and read, study, or watch endless movies. Being a person with special needs means that you can be healthy but still stuck in an “eternal quarantine.”

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