It’s not unusual for a child with special needs to be left out of a group of kids—especially girls. Girl warfare is fierce—even children without special needs have challenges. It is that much harder for kids with special needs. My daughter is visually-impaired. This shields her from some of the dirty looks and eyeball rolling, but sometimes, she does sense that a peer interaction did not go well. Honestly, I don’t think the girls are vicious, they just don’t know what to do. They are 8. They will act 8. Unless they are taught to act differently.
Everyone talks about inclusion, but rarely is it discussed how to make it happen. If you ask any parent, they will say they try to include kids with special needs. It is the politically correct thing to say, and they do try. However, most just don’t know how.
So, here are three things parents can do to actually include a child with special needs.
1. INVITE: Don’t assume he/she can’t do something or won’t like something. Just as typical kids grow and their interests and abilities change, so do kids with special needs. My daughter might have freaked out over loud noises in kindergarten, but now she’s better able to handle crowds and noises. Also, I think parents are afraid—what if the child gets hurt? After all with a visually-impaired child there is a safety concern. I get it. Most special needs parents assume that they will present for the activity—we don’t drop off and go. This also doesn’t mean we will be hovering either. We will be there to help make it a successful experience for everyone. After all, we want the same goal: our child to have fun and be invited back.
2. ASK: Does my child need anything? Usually no, but if the kids are going to the movies, she will need to sit up front. Many times a girl pack will run off to a new activity and my daughter will be wandering around wondering where everyone went. I know it’s not a mean act; they just don’t know. Often I ask one of the girls to help her. I tell her it is helpful if you grab her hand to help guide her or say follow my voice. The usual response is, “Whoops, sorry, I forgot.” The apology is actually very positive. It means the girl doesn’t think of my child as having special needs. My daughter is just another girl, not the girl who can’t see.
3. TEACH: Model all of this for your child. As you know, it is not what you say, but what you do. When I grew up, there was a boy with special needs on our swim team. It took him a very long time to complete a lap—but everyone cheered for him until his last stroke. As a child, I never asked or questioned why. Just by example, I knew it was the right thing to do.
When you do all this, you include not only a child, but a whole family too. Rarely is it discussed how isolating it can be for the families. When our children are not included, we are not included. We don’t participate in little league, soccer, or dance class. Our child is not recognized for a choir solo or for being on the honor roll. We miss opportunities to share being a parent with other parents. It may sound cliché, but it does take a village to raise a child. You never know the power of that village until you are excluded from it.