Our names are Eric & Jenni Thomas and our son Sam will start kindergarten at Delaware Trail this year. We already know some of you and some of you may have met us at the school with our older child, Carson, who will be starting the 5th grade.
We are writing this letter because many of the children don't know Sam and they will probably be curious about the fact that he has only one hand. It is important to us that the students are comfortable with his limb difference. In an effort to satisfy your child's natural curiosity and keep awkward situations to a minimum, we’d like to tell you a little bit about him and offer suggestions about what to say to kids who wonder about his “missing” hand.
First of all, this is the way Sam was born. There aren’t many known reasons, but experts think Sam’s heart stopped beating for a moment or he had a blood clot in his arm that prevented fingers from growing. This is easily translated to kids as, "That's the way he was born. His arm didn't grow quite right when he was in his mommy's tummy." Some children hear the physical explanation and go about their business without second thoughts. At this age though, it's more common they will want more details.
The easiest way to help a child understand something like this is to remind them how we are all different from each other. You can engage them in this conversation by pointing out the obvious differences: hair, eyes, glasses, height, skin color, size of feet, etc. The list is endless. It's also a good idea to explain that Sam's hand is not broken, painful, shameful, sad or frightening. It is simply different. Sometimes children will also be concerned about how he will do certain things with only one hand. We usually remind them that he does all the same things they do, just in different ways. He has never had two hands so he learns to do everything with one. Questions they have about how he does things will be answered naturally when they see Sam in action.
Once you get to know Sam it's easy to forget he has only one hand. He is a determined kid who adapts easily. He washes both hands, plays with toys, eats, drinks, climbs like a monkey, and successfully dresses himself. He refers to his right hand as his “special hand”, “little hand”, or “lucky fin” just like in Finding Nemo, and he uses it just as the rest of us use our hands: painting with it, digging in the dirt, holding things, clapping, making "hand" prints, etc. There are tasks he gets frustrated with but most of the time he takes challenges in stride and manages creatively.
Sam usually handles questions from peers fairly well but sometimes doesn’t want to talk about it when there are too many questions. The thing that can bother him is when people grab or touch his arm and hand inappropriately. Some children are so curious that they instinctively reach out and grab Sam’s handless arm. People sometimes want to squeeze, twist or poke his little hand; this issue is best addressed in a general discussion about personal space and keeping your hands to yourself.
We have also experienced the opposite reaction, kids who are afraid of Sam’s difference. They may not want to stand or sit next to him, avoid holding "hands" with him during circle activities, or they make "yucky," "gross," or "scary" comments. Obviously, this is upsetting, but it is a natural reaction for some kids. We encourage you to share any questions or concerns with us that you or your child may have regarding Sam’s limb difference. Regardless of whether they have met him or not, you can share some of this information with your child to help eliminate the mystery. If your child is afraid, please let us or the teacher know so we can deal with it right away.
We keep a website that is focused on advocacy for limb different kids and we welcome you to share any pictures or stories from the website if you think it will help your son or daughter. At the site Sam has video episodes about his brand of getting things done; we also feature other limb different kids. The website is MySpecialHand.com
We wanted to let you know that we welcome conversation about Sam and we look forward to getting to know you and your children.
Eric & Jenni Thomas