By Anchel Krishna
My childhood memories are filled with memories of bowling alleys, McDonalds playrooms and crowding around dining room tables while singing Happy Birthday. Birthday parties are a key social event when you’re a kid.
When you have a child with special needs, birthday parties can be a source of angst. Parents often report their child with special needs not being invited to parties held by other kids. On the flip side there have also been incidents where kids with special needs host birthday parties and no one shows up.
Both are equally heartbreaking to experience. My daughter, Syona, is 4 and has cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair and a walker. She likes cake and singing happy birthday as much as any other child. I hope that as the years go by she will continue to be invited to parties and that people will show up the events we hold for her.
As a parent of a typically developing child, sometimes the reason you don’t invite kids with special needs is because you aren’t sure what to do. How will a child in a wheelchair get up the steps to your home? What about if a child has sensory issues and large crowds make them nervous? Maybe your own kid isn’t comfortable with the child in their class who seems different.
All of these are genuine issues, but with a little bit of thought it can be easy to be inclusive. Here are some tips:
- Ask questions. If there are logistical questions you aren’t sure about, just ask the parents (or the child, if he or she is old enough). For example, if you asked me about Syona’s wheelchair I would tell you that we can manage to lift it up the stairs.
- Encourage your kids to be inclusive. It’s not about your kids being kind or feeling bad for the child with special needs in their class. It is about teaching them to recognize that all people bring value, have strengths and challenges. That they can learn as much from their classmate or friend with special needs as he or she can learn from them.
- Look for inclusive party opportunities. If you’re initiating a child with special needs to your child’s birthday party think about ways they could participate or how activities could be modified. If you’re holding your party at a location geared to kids it is always nice to call, ask about accommodations and let the parents know about what is available. Again, if you aren’t sure, just refer back to tip 1 and ask questions.
- Attend the parties of kids with special needs. There is a chance that your child may not want to attend the party of a child with special needs because they aren’t friends or think the kid is different. This is a teaching moment and a good time to encourage your child to attend. Refer back to tip 2 and teach them why being inclusive is important. Challenge your child to find ways to be inclusive beyond the party. Maybe they can invite the child with special needs to play with them more often.
Working to make our world and the world of our children more inclusive is work. But it leads to a richer, more in-depth experience of life. It helps encourage kids to be connected with everyone around them and build empathy. It builds stronger communities and relationships with everyone.
And if you think about it, isn’t that the world you want for your kids? Share your thoughts on this subject below!
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