I was recently visiting with a friend who has two children with spina bifida. We have been friends for years, and I’ve watched this amazing woman as she has learned how to navigate the challenges of children with special needs: the surgeries, casts, walkers, wheelchairs–not to mentioned the health care costs. But as hard as all the physical and logistical handicaps a special need presents, I believe the bigger challenge is one of the heart.
As mothers, we all want our children to be accepted and liked by other children. No one wants their child to be the one everyone stares at, whispers about, ignores, or even laughs at. I believe we also all want our child to be the one to know how to treat that child who is different.
Even though my children have been interacting with these two children with spina bifida for a few years, I realized through this conversation that I am still so ignorant. I want my children to be comfortable with children with special needs. I want them to know how to treat them with respect, to be considerate of their needs without making them feel patronized or like a charity case. I want them to be aware of how to be inclusive.
How do we teach that?
I asked my friend for a few ideas, but I know we have a lot of mothers in our community who have children with special needs. What do you think? How do we teach our children to be aware and respectful of children with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities?
What have other children done that have really helped your child?
What are some of the ignorant things we can avoid?
What has meant the most to you as a mother?
Even if you don’t have a child with special needs, but you have some examples of ways this has been accomplished, please share! We’d appreciate everyone’s ideas in the comments.
Some ideas that my friend shared are:
- Prepare Your Child: Have a conversation before they get together to play. Share some ideas of activities they can do together. Playing LEGOS or Little Ponies or other activities don’t require a lot of physical movement. Jumping on a trampoline could be done gently if the child likes to bounce. Remind your child to ask their friend what they think would be fun.
- Brainstorm Natural Ways to Help: A neighbor boy called up my friend and asked if he could take her son trick or treating with him. He would push the wheelchair up to the steps and then even had a dialog prepared for the door, “See my friend down the steps? Can I have an extra piece of candy for him?”
- Make Accommodations: As parents, we don’t need to shy away from having children with special needs over to play. We can have open dialog with other parents. What are the limitations? How can we work around them? What do they enjoy doing?
- Look for What Our Friend Has to Offer: We all have something to offer. Let’s look for what our friends with special needs have to offer us. Maybe we share common interests. Maybe they are very knowledgeable on something we are curious about. Maybe they make us laugh and smile. Or maybe they just make us feel good to be around.
QUESTION: How do we teach our children how to interact with children with special needs?
Image from Shutterstock; Graphics by Julie Finlayson.