Many people are considering their personal goals or resolutions for the new year. For families of children with special needs, inclusion in the wider community is usually on that list of goals.
Here’s a list of 10 ways to include a child with special needs in the new year.
10. Fulfill sensory needs at all group activities
Whatever the activity is, make sure there is space for sensory seeking, such as water play and banging on a drum, as well as sensory aversion, such as a personal hiding spot behind a shrub or a quiet, dark corner. The same person may be both sensory-seeking and sensory-averse at different times on the same day!
Some families are reluctant to attend concerts, plays or musicals because their children have unpredictable behavior. But attending the theater can be an effective way to develop an awareness of community, learn new social skills and enjoy the arts. At a family concert, kids with special needs blend right in as the whole audience bounces in their seats throughout the performance.
The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra offers free KinderConcerts for children age 2 to 6 and family concerts for all ages. The Marquis Theatre in Northville, Michigan features children’s musicals all year round.
8. Lunchtime at school
As a mother, I worry about the unstructured time at school, such as the time between classes and lunchtime, when most bullying tends to occur. Lunchtime is when my son needs inclusion the most! Be a friend at lunchtime in 2013.
7. Extracurricular activities
Students who get extra support during the school day often find that they are not welcome at after-school activities. One friend of ours was advised by the school principal not to sign up for an after-school science enrichment class because of his special needs, and the following year he was cut from the school’s Lego team without explanation.
Rather than creating an exclusive environment, extracurricular groups can recruit additional volunteers to assist children who need extra attention. Many parents of children with special needs are willing to volunteer if it means their children can participate. High school groups such as the National Honor Society are another good source of volunteers.
6. Birthday party
one of our most successful inclusion experiments in 2012 was our son’s birthday party at a bowling alley with typical kids and kids with special needs. We’re going to repeat that in 2013.
If you’re not sure if you should invite a classmate or friend with special needs to a birthday party or family get-together, err on the side of generosity by inviting the child to attend with his or her parent. At least then the parent can decide whether to decline graciously or accept your invitation.
5. Bring along a buddy on your next field trip
the next time you’re planning a day at the zoo or a picnic at the park, consider inviting friends with and without special needs. This has been very successful for us during school vacations.
4. Teach a skill
Life skills and employment skills can be major obstacles for children with special needs. So give your time to teach a specific skill such as counting money to buy a cup of hot chocolate, doing a load of laundry, finding and checking out books at the library or using the telephone.
3. Religious inclusion
I am deeply saddened every time I hear about a family feeling unwelcome in any type of religious community because of a child’s disability. It is not enough merely to tolerate the presence of such a family during worship – the child with a disability has an equal right to become a full member of the religious community and participate in leadership roles, such as greeter, usher, server, lector or cantor. I know it’s possible because my 11 year old son has a leadership role when he attends services.
Susan Senator writes about the sense of completion and joy she experienced when her son, who has autism, had his bar mitzvah. The Friendship Circle offers the Efshar Circle, a Hebrew School for children with special needs, to encourage participation and to nurture a sense of religious identity.
2. Structured peer-to-peer support
Recent studies have demonstrated that one of the most effective interventions for children with special needs is peer-to-peer support. Peer-to-peer support is equally beneficial to the child with special needs and his or her peers, plus it is cost-effective in a school setting. Two programs used in schools are Circle of Friends
Always respect the child’s wishes regarding how, where and when to be included. By building trust in the your relationship, the child will become more confident and more interested in community participation.
How are you going to include children with special needs this year?