Children with developmental challenges often encounter significant difficulty in their lives, particularly when it comes to feeling accepted socially by their peers. Over at Today’s Parent, there is a very thoughtful post from a parent of several developmentally challenged children who offers insights into how her children and their peers were positively impacted when they were given the chance to more fully integrate socially.
When I adopted four siblings, I did not know that by the end of the first year, we’d find ourselves in a tangle of diagnoses: developmental delays, FASD, and sensory processing issues. Like most parents of kids with neurologically atypical kids, the single thing that worried me way more than them meeting milestones and good grades was whether they would manage to make and keep friends. In the early days of their diagnoses, I made a lot of assumptions about what my kids’ social life would be like, and I worried they’d be left out of things like birthday parties—something that’s heartbreakingly common for kids with special needs.
To a child with exceptionalities, invitations equal belonging. But parents with neurotypical kids may feel afraid to invite that kid in the class—the one who is sometimes disruptive, who acts a little younger, who seems out of sync. Some parents may even feel indignant: Why should I invite that kid?
But when children are encouraged to include classmates with challenges, they learn to see the person behind the cognitive differences. They learn the importance of connection and compassion. In other words, inclusive parties aren’t just good for my kid—they’re good for yours.
This is a critical point. All sides can benefit from the opportunity to interact with each other. It’s an opportunity to break down walls of misunderstanding.
To my relief, the families in our rural community have time and again invited my children to parties—and helped them to find their groove in what can be an overwhelming experience. It means so much to us. And all it takes is a little creative thinking and sensitivity.
When my youngest daughter, Livvy, was invited at age five to a birthday party for the first time, she was ecstatic. She has sensory processing issues, as well as developmental trauma disorder, which at the time created a lot of separation anxiety—but she really wanted to go. On the day of the party, she had me put ribbons in her hair, and she proudly marched up to her friend’s house clutching a gift she’d wrapped herself. Yet, as we stood on the front step and the door swung open, she balked like a skittish horse, suddenly panicked by the sound of stampeding children running through the house. “I can’t stay here, Mommy,” she whispered, backing away.
I wasn’t sure what to do, and I stood there helpless as my daughter refused to budge. I tried to encourage her, telling her how much fun she’d have, but she wouldn’t move and I eventually apologized to the hosts and explained we’d just have to leave. To their credit, the birthday girl’s parents instinctively rose to the occasion and invited me to be part of the event. A total stranger, I was brought into the kitchen and given the job of handing out pizza. With her mother in sight, Livvy felt secure to linger in this quiet space, until she adjusted to the nearby party chaos. Eventually one of her classmates found her, grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into the fray. To my surprise, that was the last I saw of her until it was time for loot bags.
That’s wonderful that the parents were quick thinking to include the parent and that the kids were able to integrate this child into the party. It did not take a huge effort but a little compassion and flexibility.
It hadn’t occurred to me to discuss my daughter’s challenges with the host family ahead of time, but since that day, I’ve preemptively reached out to other parents and been honest with them about my kids’ limitations.
It’s not necessary to give a full medical run-down of your kid’s diagnoses. Simply explaining what she might find difficult and how to help her cope is enough. For example, if Zach got overstimulated he often wandered off or acted out. After I discussed this with the family who invited him to his first party, they offered him a quiet space in the basement with video games for when things upstairs got rowdy. On the day, spending half an hour in this den, mid-party, was enough to renew him, and he was able to re-emerge, feeling calm and in control, to join the other kids for cake.
That’s right, you don’t need to burden or overwhelm others with complicated medical terms and long acronyms. Better to keep it simple and explain what works and what doesn’t.
Those parents considering inviting a child with special needs to their kid’s party shouldn’t be shy asking parents about the child’s specific situation and how best to support him. It often takes just very small tweaks to make a party inclusive.
This is so important. Don’t hold back if you have questions. Find out what will help the child feel comfortable.
To see the full post, click on the link below.
Photo By alisonsmith1988
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