I’m taking another quick pause from my style posts to write about something that is very important to me. I’m asking you for a favor this back to school season.
As you may or may not know, my oldest son, William, has some developmental delays. We’ve spent the last eight years taking advantage of speech, occupational and physical therapists, specialized schooling for autistic children, behavioral therapists and plans, medication, and tutors. The amazing thing is … all of this has paid off. William is doing awesome. He can now go into a public restroom and travel with us. He can stay up past his bedtime without major consequences. I no longer get weekly calls from teachers. He is a gentleman when out to dinner. I’ve even caught him shaking hands and making eye contact with new friends. We are at a place that I never could have imagined.
But things aren’t perfect. They’ll never be. He’ll always have some challenges, well into his adult life. The tough part is that William looks perfect. There is no reason to think, when looking at him with his Adidas flip flops, popped collar and hesitant demeanor that he is any different than other tween his age. However, he is. He’s quite different at times. Sometimes subtly quirky, and other times obviously quirky.
We recently had a few incidents where he was treated unkindly. Kids were unaccepting of him. “Breaks my heart” is an understatement. “Nauseous for days” is more like it. Sadly, I think this is only the beginning now that we’re only one year from middle school.
I love to write style pieces, share trends, and get your mind off all of that heavy stuff like politics and natural disasters. However, I feel compelled to get serious for a moment and ask you, my friends, family and readers, for some help on behalf of the “not-so-typical” kids out there.
There are two favors that I ask as we move forward into this next school year:
- ACTIVELY encourage inclusion. What do I mean by this? Ask your children if there are children who are never picked at gym. If there are kids who roam around the playground alone. How about the one that never has a partner. Challenge them to move out of their comfort zone with their best buddy and partner up with that child. Encourage or incentivize them to share a story of how it went, and how they felt after including. Remind them of how that child probably feels. Last year, Will’s aide told me that the young, “sporty” kid that everyone wanted as a partner chose William. This was LIFE CHANGING for my son.
- Talk to your children about disabilities. Share the fact that disabilities are not always physical, and sometimes not noticeable at all. Sometimes they play out in unpleasant ways. Behavioral problems like body control issues, annoyingness and rudeness are sometimes the result of a neurologically atypical child not being able to process his/her feeling or anxieties. More often than not during their elementary years, they are unable to express this. When your child comes home complaining of a child’s behavior, remember that this may not be a “bad kid” or a child with “shitty parents”, as I’ve heard kids referred to in the past. These children may be struggling with difficult emotional control issues and are likely working on those challenges. These are often the very children that need to be included.
I’ve seen many bumper stickers and tee shirts encouraging us all to “practice kindness.” Here. I’ve given you two, very specific ways that you can encourage a child you know to practice kindness… ways that go much further than simply wearing the words. I will continue to encourage my children to be kind and inclusive, and hope that they will make as much of a positive impact on someone’s life as the sporty kid made on William’s.