With the school year ending and summertime around the corner, the days of pool parties and day camps with school friends are almost here. This time of year, however, can be lonely and isolating for some peers, especially those with disabilities, as their differences can cause them to be left out.
Jonas, my son, was born with Peter’s Anomaly, which is a rare disease that caused him to be blind at birth. He was able to gain very low vision after several surgeries, but still requires the use of a walking cane and is currently learning how to read Braille. He is such a sweet and strong kiddo, but something I worry about every day is that he will soon start to notice how he is different from other kids his age.
I have personally felt nervous on numerous occasions navigating the world of disabilities for my own child, so I can absolutely imagine that other parents with children who don’t have disabilities may also feel anxious or have fears about welcoming another child who may have special needs over for a playdate or sleepover. With this understanding and gratitude for parents who are willing to welcome a friend that may be different from their own child, here are a few of my top tips to welcome others who are differently abled into your home:
- Include Everyone and Be Accepting: All kids want to feel included and accepted by their peers, especially kids who may already feel a little different than the others because of their disability. When it comes to playdates, birthday parties, or just planning a time to carpool, don’t forget the importance of including everyone! One simple invite may make a huge difference for a child who is often overlooked. It’s also a good reminder of the importance of loving and including others even when they may be different than you.
- Encourage Your Child to Ask Questions: In my experience of caring for a visually impaired child, I appreciate it when parents or kids ask questions to me and my husband about why Jonas uses a walking cane. Showing interest and curiosity in a thoughtful manner can also demonstrate to your own kids that it’s okay to ask about someone’s differences in a respectful way, as it ultimately allows them to be more considerate of the other child’s circumstances and needs.
- Set a Good Example for Your Kids: Always remember that your kids are consistently observing you and your actions, especially towards something they are not as familiar with. As a parent, if you act nervous or uncomfortable around peers with disabilities, that may signal to your child that they should act the same way. Lead by example!
- Don’t Complicate a Disability to Your Child: As a momma to a child with disabilities, don’t feel like you have to overly complicate trying to explain why a child may be different from the others. From my experience, once kids are able to ask questions about Jonas and why he doesn’t see things like most of us do, they’re able to process it in their own way and move on! Remind yourself that kids are kids, and the ‘why’ can be simple.
Most importantly, remember the value and impact of caring and loving others around you, with or without disabilities. The more your children see you including and loving others of all shapes and sizes, the more likely they will be to treat their peers the same way.