Other people’s kids

August 11, 2010

Aside from her physical disabilities, Chloe is a regular six year old. She likes games, laughter, toys, and the usual kid-oriented chaos. She listens to other kids, laughs at their jokes, and encourages their exploits. Kids who know her appreciate her friendliness and enthusiasm. Kids who don’t know her tend to ignore her completely. This is understandable–because Chloe can’t talk or run around, she can’t participate in regular kid interactions. She needs an adult to explain to the other kids how she operates, to come up with ways that they can include her, to answer questions.

At school, her teachers and aide are these adults, and this works great. The kids trust them and know that they can ask questions. We’ve encouraged the staff at the school to be open about Chloe’s disability, to explain everything the kids want to know. As a result, they are completely comfortable around her. They know how to communicate with her, they give her hugs and hold her hand, they take turns pushing her chair.

At social events involving kids that don’t know Chloe so well, we are at a loss. As Chloe’s parents, my husband and I can answer questions and guide other kids in their interactions with her. But we need help. We don’t feel comfortable telling other people’s kids what to do, and the kids don’t usually feel comfortable asking us questions. So we usually spend most of our time pushing Chloe around, keeping her physically close to the action, hoping for some opportunity to include her, while the other parents enjoy their grown-up time, letting their kids take care of themselves. Eventually, the three us get tired. Chloe gets sick of being ignored, and we get sick of watching her get ignored.

I’m sure the other parents don’t realize what is happening. They’re used to kids working things out for themselves, and they’re used to seeing us take care of Chloe. Maybe they don’t have any idea what they could do. It’s up to us to change things, I guess. The next time we take Chloe to a party or event with other kids, I think I’ll talk to some of the parents before hand. I’ll tell them that if Chloe is going to be there, we need to work together to come up with ways to include her. I know from watching the kids at her school that other kids benefit from getting to know Chloe. It just takes a little extra work, on everyone’s part.

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