|I freaking love Glee.|
I know. Now you want to be friends with her even more. Because of the awesomeness.
But, what else can I do to help my child be a better friend to the playmate? When the playmate melts down, my kid looks at me with great concern. I’m totally at a loss on how to help my kid be sensitive to our friend’s special needs, and how to be a bit more sensitive myself. So I beg of you, your readers, whomever—what more can I do?
This is a situation I struggle with personally. Little Dude desperately wants to have friends, but is sometimes at a loss as to how to make friends and interact with his peers in a way that works out for everyone. And the Pork Lo Maniac's ADHD has its own social impacts.
To those who would say that you've taught your child to be kind to everyone, here's a reality check: It's easier to be kind to some people than others. Some friends take a little more work to understand. By first grade, kids are very much aware of differences and the desire to fit in. As kids get older and peer pressure becomes more of an issue, they may be afraid that hanging out with certain kids will cause a drop in social status.
It's hard growing up on the "outside." Despite the work our schools are doing to combat bullying, there is still the insidious tendency for some kids to be simply excluded. Unfortunately, bullying and exclusion have very real effects on all our children and on society as a whole, so it's worth taking the time to give this some thought.
How to Help Your Child to Be a Good Friend to a Person with Special Needs
Put things in a context your child understands. My friend Sandra is the master of this. Her twin girls are terrific friends to Little Dude. The know that he's different, but they don't seem to care. Sandra will explain things to them in a context they can relate to. For example, "you know how you're freaked out by the Big Red Chicken on Dora? Little Dude is freaked out by loud noises." Little kids all have stuff they're afraid of or that freaks them out. They totally get it. They actually get it better than most adults.
|Sometimes kids can be jealous of the attention|
a special needs child receives.
Or of their cool Hello Kitty wheelchair.
("But Mo-oooommmm! I want one too!
Yes, I know my legs work fine. So?")
Encourage them to ask questions and answer them to the best of your ability. Once your child notices that the Star Wars backpack is attached to a tube leading to a second belly button in her friend, she may want to know about it. If you sense that she's uncomfortable asking, but you can tell that she's curious (because, you know, she's staring), it's okay to say, "that's Susie's feeding tube. It's how she eats some of her food." Or "Little Dude sometimes can't hear you because he's so excited about his Legos." If you don't know the answer, please ask us! I think I can speak for every special needs parent that we are happy to help you raise an understanding, kind child.
Praise your child for being a good friend. When you notice that your child lowered her voice, or chose the allergen-free snack, or ignored the obvious odor coming from a Pull-Up, tell him that he's a good friend. Tell him that he's kind, he's thoughtful, and that he's the kind of person you're proud to know.
If your kids are school-aged and older, keep teaching and modeling empathy. Just because your kid outgrew Barney doesn't mean she doesn't need to keep hearing that kindness is a priority. In fact, as kids get older and peer pressure becomes more of an issue, it's even more important that you reinforce what your family values are. And yeah, when you rolled your eyes or acted impatient with the cheerful but methodically slow bagger at the grocery store, your kids saw you. And learned from that.
|Professor X rocks the wheelchair. |
Happens to also be a mutant. Still a hottie.
Help your kids learn why their friend does what they do. Your younger kids can watch shows like Sesame Street and Arthur, which regularly feature all different kinds of kids. There was an amazing episode of Arthur called When Carl Met George that gives kids and adults alike a terrific understanding of Asperger Syndrome.
With your older kids, watch movies like Adam, Mozart and the Whale, or even X-Men (hello, Professor X). There's also tons of television shows (good ones, not creepy after-school specials) that feature differently-abled characters: Parenthood, Glee, The Big Bang Theory, and Secret Life of an American Teenager come to mind.
Help them find fiction and nonfiction about their friend's special needs. Read a novel like Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine with your tweens, and talk about the book with them. In nonfiction, How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, by autistic teen Daniel Stefanski, gives specific examples and concrete tips.
What else, y'all? Obviously my answers are skewed toward understanding kids with autism, but this applies to all kinds of special needs situations, as well as kids with serious food allergies or kids going through tough times. Leave your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!