Dear Molly: My Son Is Jealous of the Extra Rewards a Special Needs Kid Gets at School

Being any kind of parent is hard. But when my second child was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder with no cure, my world changed. I faced new obstacles and issues I didn't have with my first, "typical" child.

I've come across many parents and children who have questions about special needs kids at school that they're too nervous to ask. That's why I'm here. I'm hoping to share my perspective to help parents of "typicals” understand our children better. I’m going to do my best to speak on behalf of the special needs parents. Here we go:

Dear Molly,

My son has a special needs boy in his class and he's noticed that the boy gets to have special privileges like iPad time whenever he wants. The boy also gets to play on his iPad during recess, instead of playing with the other kids. My child is really confused about why he gets to have that privilege while others don't. I'm guessing he's also pretty jealous. He doesn't really have an understanding of IEPs and other programs a special needs child may have in place and only sees that this boy (who he doesn't consider any different from all the other kids in class) gets to have special treats. What should I tell him?


Good question, since electronics are banned at most schools during the school day. However, this is different than the typical child texting on their phone. In the special needs world, the iPad is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because, at least in my house, it acts as another therapist. My child has picked up so much vocabulary from the iPad. The device also enables non-verbal children to communicate with their caregivers through typing or touching pictures to get their needs addressed.

In this case, it seems the boy in your son’s class is getting an iPad at recess time as a reward. Most likely the boy had to do a few things in class that come naturally to your son, but may be more challenging to this little boy. The child is most likely accompanied by a behaviorist who’s keeping track of the time spent on the iPad. The behavior team, the teacher and the boy’s parents have probably agreed on a system: He does the task that’s asked of him, he get a few minutes on the iPad. Trust me, it’s not a free-for-all on the iPad during recess. The behaviorist has his own timer and when that timer goes off, the boy will put his iPad away. Ask your child to pay attention to that the next time they’re at recess.

Some special needs children are working double or triple time to keep their act together during class. As a reminder, their brains do not work the same as a neuro-typical child’s brain does. Sometimes, we know that to keep our child in an inclusive classroom, certain exceptions need to be made, and in this case, it’s an iPad.

This is going to be a tough one to explain to your son. Since your child doesn't see this boy as different from any of the other kids in the classroom, you're probably reluctant to point out differences to him. But you can open up a discussion on special needs without implying that the other child's needs are somehow bad or wrong; they're simply different (as we all are). You can then explain to your child that each kid at school has their own learning program and that each program has its own challenges and its own rewards. You can explain that the iPad is a tool that's just part of the other boy's learning.

If your child starts to question why he cannot have the same learning program as this other boy, you can reiterate that each program is designed for each particular child and remind him of certain rewards he gets at home for his own achievements. As you would deal with any other type of jealousy or envy, you're going to have to teach your son to stop comparing their rewards or possessions to another’s. Instead, you can help refocus their thinking on their own gratitude and positive experiences.

Hope that helps!

If you have any questions you’ve wanted to ask a special needs mom but have been afraid to, please leave them in the comment section.

Tags : relationships   special needs   

Kirsten Kawasaki
My daughter came home wondering what some kids get extra stickers when they behave worse than others. It's very confusing for kids. I have no idea how to answer her. I wish teachers did a better job explaining these situations so the kids can get it.