“We’re More Alike Than Different”: Raising Kids Who Care About People with Disabilities


Sometimes, real good can emerge from not-so-good incidents, as happened recently when our family was on vacation. I’d signed my kids up for a Saturday evening program at a hotel; my husband and I planned to go out to dinner. But when we showed up at the program, we were informed that the caregiving service that runs it had said they could not accommodate my son. Max has mild cerebral palsy, and needs some assistance during mealtime and in the bathroom. I told the hotel manager how wrong it was not to include kids with special needs, but he said there wasn’t anything to be done since the service was outsourced. He offered to host us for dinner at a restaurant, and as we munched on chips and guacamole, my 9-year-old and I discussed what had happened.

“Why did you get so upset with that man?” Sabrina asked.

“Because it’s wrong not to include kids like Max in programs,” I said. “Don’t you think every kid deserves to have a good time, even if they need a little extra help?”

She pondered that. “Yes,” she said. “Max should have fun!”

I was sorry about what had happened, but glad that my daughter learned something from it. I am always looking for ways to help her better understand why the world needs to include her brother and other people with disabilities, because it’s not always such a welcoming place. Awareness starts at home, and I’m doing my best to raise a kid who will care about her brother along with other people who have disabilities.

Sabrina has seen good instances of inclusion over the years. She takes a class at a local gym, and they have a Parents Night Out. She and Max have both attended on occasion; I just let the gym owner know in advance, and she hires an extra staffer to help him. Sabrina also sees me go out of my way to say hello to other kids with special needs.

“Why did you say hello to that boy?” she once asked after I greeted a child with Down syndrome at the park and gave him a high-five.

“Sometimes, people just are a little unsure of what to make of people who seem different than they are,” I explained. “So I try my best to be as friendly as possible.”

We’ve had other conversations about how kids with special needs are just like any other kids — they like to play, watch TV, eat chocolate ice cream. We’ve browsed videos on YouTube about people with special needs doing great things, like competing in the Special Olympics. We’ve talked about why Max has an adaptive bike, and how great it is that he can ride it. I regularly blog about Max’s awesomeness, spurred by my desire to open people’s hearts and minds to kids like him who have special needs. It’s easy to notice when someone has a disability; seeing their abilities takes a certain mindset.

As parents, we do our best to raise ethical, conscientious, morally strong kids who care about others and the world they live in. We teach them to embrace different races and religions. We show them how to recycle and conserve electricity. We drop off clothing and canned goods at school and church food drives. Teaching them to accept, respect, and connect with people who have disabilities should be one more part of our parent curriculum. A few simple things any mom or dad can do: Encourage your child to say “Hi!” to a kid with special needs at the playground, the party, or wherever you are. If they ask questions about a child’s disability, answer them as straightforwardly as you can or look up information online. Talk more about how they are alike than how they are different.

My conversation with Sabrina about what happened at that program didn’t end that night. A couple days later, she asked me about a regular Sunday program Max attends for kids with special needs that’s staffed by teens.

“How old do you have to be to help out?” she asked.

I told her she had to be in high school. “Why, do you want to do that?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said. And then, five words that made my heart feel all warm and fuzzy: “I really want to help.”

Image courtesy of ThinkStock.


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