1. Read about disabilities together
Reading books is a great starting point. There are plenty of picture books that discuss disabilities and inclusion. Books are a useful tool because they are a natural springboard to conversation — talk about autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, hearing impairment, visual impairment, etc. Take the time to explain what it is, and how it may affect people.
Awareness helps reduce the stigma that accompanies a lot of these disabilities.
2. Answer your child’s questions with honesty
Children are curious creatures and often, many people with disabilities welcome the chance to answer your children’s questions.
I’m sure we’ve all had a child ask a question, usually in a loud voice, about something they see like, “Why does that person only have one leg?” or “Why is that kid covering his ears and screaming?” You probably get embarrassed, maybe even panic a little, hoping that the person didn’t hear your child’s question. Or maybe you even try to shush your child as a way to avoid answering the awkward questions.
But here’s the thing… What are you teaching your child when you respond that way?
Answering these questions, especially in public, can be hard, but it’s important to answer your child’s questions honestly. Explain why some people might need wheelchairs to get around. Teach them about service dogs and why we can’t pet or touch these animals when we see them.
Children are curious creatures and often, many people with disabilities welcome the chance to answer your children’s questions. You can always ask the person themselves if they would be willing to answer your child’s questions.
You should also give your children the vocabulary and terms they need to understand these disabilities. Teach them words like autistic, for instance. Explain that not all disabilities are visible.
3. Celebrate your child’s uniqueness
By celebrating your child’s unique qualities, you are indirectly teaching them about how other people are unique and special too. And hopefully, your child will learn to look for and celebrate the unique qualities of others.
More recommended reading: My Autistic Son Has Nothing To Be Sorry For — He’s Wonderful, Thanks
4. Teach your child about inclusion and model it!
There are plenty of ways to model inclusion to your child and they’re often simple things to do.
For example, there is an autistic boy at my children’s school who loves to say hi to every single person that enters the school. You would be surprised how many people simply walk right past him without saying hi. It breaks my heart. How hard is it to simply wave or say hi back to him?
So, just do it — say hi. That simple gesture helps him feel accepted and that he belongs. Plus, you don’t look like a jerk for ignoring him.
Teach your kids to ask others to join them, even if the other kid seems quirky or weird. It can be as simple as including them at recess time or holding the door open for someone in a wheelchair.
5. Teach your child to be kind
It seems obvious, I know, but perhaps the most important thing you can do is to teach your child about the importance of being kind to others.
Remind them that they don’t have to like everyone, but they should still be polite and kind to everyone they encounter.
Kindness and respect goes a long way.
Similarly, you should teach your child about bullying. Specifically, what bullying is, how to identify a bully, and what to do when they encounter bullying (either towards them or others). By giving your child this information, they may feel confident standing up for those quirky and different kids that end up being bullied during the school years.
The bottom line is this though: Don’t teach your child to be my son’s friend simply because he’s autistic and different. He’s not some pity-party.
Instead, teach your child to be my son’s friend simply because they genuinely like him for who he is.