By Allie Imaghodor, Executive Director, XVI and Childcare Resources' Junior Board President
Encouraging friendships between our non-disabled children and disabled peers:
Following Amanda Atkins on Instagram often poses validating reminders of the nuances that I feel each day as a parent to a disabled child. A recent post about encouraging friendships between non-disabled children and their disabled peers compelled me to expand on all of her points even further.
Recognizing differences: Not all disabilities are visible, and even in the visible cases – you can’t paint a clear picture of a person's individual story. No one can tell you more about a child than their parents, and often the child themself. Having open conversations on a playground, at a party, or school function can open more doors than you realize. Meaningful connections, even just for a moment, can be a core memory for all involved.
It's okay to offer help. It may be a tantrum or a determined child who wants to conquer a slide, just make sure you obtain consent before jumping in to help. Sometimes more involvement can be overstimulating.
Communication differences: If the friend has a speech delay, or may communicate with a device or gestures, it's okay to ask them to repeat themselves or show you their request again. Everyone wants to be understood. Whatever way they communicate, accept it as valid communication.
Feeling uncomfortable around someone with a disability? It’s vital that you explore that feeling and deal with the hard truths behind it. It is likely due to underlying thoughts of misinformation surrounding accessibility and inclusion.
Understand that children are watching your mannerisms and behavior in every circumstance. Children continue that modeled behavior when they are away from you, as well. Ensure that you aren’t placing judgments and making statements in reference to what you may interpret as negative or irregular behavior.
Every parent has every hope and dream that their child will one day run, ride a bike, make a big group of friends and go off into the world on their own. But, that is not a reality that everyone can look forward to. It doesn’t make their version of a full life any less meaningful, it simply makes it a not so “typical'' journey.
My son doesn’t participate in organized sports, but he loves to ride his bike, climb and swim like he’s an Olympic hopeful. Changing your mindset of the reality of a person with disabilities can be as simple as asking “So, what is your kid most interested in these days?” We all want to be seen as more than what we may look like or what we do for a living.
When we engage in better understanding each other, we promote a better and brighter future for all.