The Conversation We’re Not Having

"There is a conversation that is being forgotten as we move deeper into this time of social justice, empathy, and allyship."

There is a conversation that is being forgotten as we move deeper into this time of social justice, empathy, and allyship. We are talking to our kids about how to stand up for our friends of different religious backgrounds, gender identities, races and cultures. We're sitting down with our sons and our daughters to talk about consent; what it is, what it sounds like, what it looks like, and why it is important and mandatory. However, the conversation I've yet to hear emerge, whether it be in the media or in private conversations among friends is how to be a friend. More specifically, how to be a friend to a child with special needs.

I've yet to hear that any of my friends are having this conversation with their children, and because I'm a parent to a child with special needs, it makes my heart feel a little heavy.

Now don't get me wrong, some children just have that spirit about them where they see the differences, be them physical, emotional or cognitive, but more than the differences they see the person. They are not intimidated, or nervously curious about the differences, but rather they are simply moved to be that person's friend. My daughter Emory was lucky enough to have kids like that in her life from the time she started nursery school.

Courtesy of Adiba Nelson
Courtesy of Adiba Nelson

However, as she's gotten older and we move about in our community, I've noticed more and more children staring curiously, speaking to me instead of to her, or sadly, being scared of her. It's heartbreaking because she is one of the most gregarious and friendly kids I know, but I cannot fault them – they're children, and they're doing what most kids do when faced with something unfamiliar – they're keeping their distance. And while I am not going to blame parents for missing the mark regarding conversations they're having with their children, I *am* going to ask that you simply add this conversation to your roster. The conversation of How To Be A Friend To Someone With Special Needs.

I know. It seems silly. It seems unnecessary. And I get how it can also seem daunting – but take it from someone who sees your kid struggle to understand how to get close to my kid, it also seems incredibly taken for granted that just because a kid has manners and is polite, they'll magically know to use those same tools with someone who is incredibly different from them. 

So I have tips, as a mom who sees children who are curious about my Emory, but don't know how to approach her:

1. Start by simply saying “HI!”

2. Ask their name.

3. Ask what games they like to play.

4. If you’d like to play with that child, find a game you can play together. If you find that it might seem difficult to play with your new friend, ask an adult to help you figure out how you can play together.

And lastly...

5. Treat your new friend the way you’d want to be treated.

I should make note that not all children with special needs have verbal capabilities, and not all children have the physical capability to *actively* play. However, as the saying goes, where there's a will there's a way. In the case of a child who struggles verbally, it is appropriate for your child to ask the adult with the child with special needs whatever questions they may have. The point is to simply make contact – primarily with the child in question. They are not invisible. They cannot afford to not be seen – especially in this day and age. And in our move towards radical allyship, it would behoove us to remember our littlest ones who might be just a tad different.

This story originally appeared on Live Inspired's blog. Live Inspired is a company inspired by special needs families and devoted to manufacturing playful, innovative, reliable and clinically sound products. The story was written by Adiba Nelson, a contributing writer for The Mighty, My Brown Baby, and The Huffington Post and author of the popular children's book about inclusion Meet ClaraBelle Blue. The book is loosely based on her precocious 8-year-old daughter, Emory, and for this reason she has made it her life's mission to ensure that children and adults of all abilities have access to the same opportunities and representation in life. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram. You can also follow Live Inspired on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

Cover image via Unsplash 

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