I can count on one hand how many times my younger son who sometimes seems “different” has been invited to a birthday party or a play date. He is eleven years old! Children on the Autism Spectrum (in my case) will often have difficulty in social situations. Especially when they are younger and haven’t had many opportunities to learn and practice social skills. A birthday party or playdate can often add even more stress and anxiety for the child, even though they really want to participate.
The Younger Days
When my son was younger, he had a lot of melt downs at school. Unfortunately, the first school he attended was not equipped to support nor understand him (putting this mildly). He was alienated, stigmatized, and rejected by some of the teachers and from many of his peers. Then came the teasing and bullying. Word spread about how he was “different”, “aggressive”, “out of control”, and how “there must be something wrong with him”.
Although things have tremendously improved all around once we moved and changed schools, he still doesn’t get invited much. Yes, he is a little different, and he is still “over–reactive” at times when he is experiencing sensory overload or when being teased. But that doesn’t mean he should be judged or excluded. Just last month another child in his class said to him “I am inviting all the boys to my birthday party except you because my mom said you have rage problems”. He came got off the school bus at the end of the day in tears.
Fear and Ignorance
I am sure there are many parents out there who can relate to this. I think that some people are still “afraid” of the kid who is different, whatever the disability or challenge. They don’t know what to think, what to believe, how to react, what to say. But how about NOT judging, ignoring, rejecting, and excluding the child out of fear and ignorance, and have the courage to ask questions instead?
Here are some examples of appropriate questions to ask: What is his diagnosis? How does his disability affect him? Does he require anything specific to get by? Are there specific foods he requires? Does he have sensory issues regarding food? Is a 2 hour playdate too long for him? Does he like birthday parties? What are his main areas of interest so that we can better try to connect with him? Can you come over with him for the first time just to make sure he is comfortable? What do I do if he has a meltdown? What should I do if he gets anxious?
Hopes and Dreams
Maybe I expect too much from others. Am I still dreaming and hoping for a world where no child is segregated, excluded, nor rejected? You bet I am! I will continue to educate, spread awareness, advocate and fight for the rights of the “different kids” everywhere. I hope you will join me. Look out for the different ones, reach out to them. Reach out to their parents. They may be fighting battles that you can’t even imagine. A show of support, an act of kindness often goes a long way. Thanks for reading!