Skip to content

Incident sparks call for awareness

Challenged children need patience and understanding
Kyle Wells

A misunderstanding has a family asking the community to show more patience and understanding when dealing with children with special needs.

Crystal and Shawn Gallant’s nine-year-old adopted son Jakob was born addicted to drugs. At the age of four Jakob was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Recently Jakob has been diagnosed with autism.  

During a beginner’s skating lesson Jakob had an altercation with another child. Shawn, who was with Jakob that day, didn’t see exactly what happened but knows that, as is frequently the case, Jakob lost his temper when he became frustrated with the other child.

After the incident organizers moved Jakob to a more advanced program designed for young hockey players. Jakob is struggling in the class, according to Shawn, and is again having some issues with other children, mostly due to his frustration with not being able to keep up.

Crystal said that when she heard about the incident and heard that Jakob was being moved to another class she became extremely upset. Taking part in sports helps Jakob to feel like a typical child and the family believes his inclusion in these events is essential to his development. Despite having lived in Powell River her whole life and feeling like her community is a great place to raise children, Crystal’s first reaction to the news was that she wanted to move. She said it made her feel isolated and frustrated to have her community feel so intolerant.

“I’ve even felt like packing up my home and children and running away from the looks, the comments, the ignorance,” said Crystal. “I want Jakob to be accepted, understood and appreciated for his gifts and people would see his gifts if they actually took the time.”

The Gallants don’t want to point fingers or assign blame, they’re more interested in using the story as an example of how more patience is needed in the community for children with special needs. Instead of being treated as a bully or an unruly child, the family wishes that Jakob had been extended a little more empathy and understanding. There are other families in the community dealing with the same challenges and the Gallants hope their plea might help some people to think twice before losing their temper or assigning blame.

CC Duncan, a behaviour management consultant who works with children with special needs, including Jakob, said it’s common for children with behaviour problems to be labelled as unruly or misbehaved. For the most part, said Duncan, when children with behavioural challenges are acting out, it is because they are having trouble communicating their frustrations. It is the disability itself that makes it difficult for them to communicate.

The biggest problem is that Jakob’s challenges have no obvious telltale signs, aside from his behaviour. If his behaviour is not understood as a symptom of his challenges, then it is easy to view Jakob as a typical child with serious discipline issues, which is what often spurs agitation toward Jakob or his parents from people who do not understand.

“It’s all about a team effort,” said Duncan, “of sharing the challenges, gaining the understanding, having more awareness and eliminating what happened.”

For the most part, according to the Gallants, people in the community get along very well with Jakob and when in the right atmosphere he is as friendly and enjoyable as any other nine-year-old. Duncan and the Gallants said that, with a little knowledge and a lot of patience, children with FASD or other disabilities can be managed and are not the unruly children that they sometimes appear to be.

For more information on behavioural challenges, interested readers can visit Duncan’s website.