How to be a super parent (a guide for regular parents)

August 12, 2010

Parent of kids with disabilities are super parents. Like Spiderman, we don’t have a choice. But as a parent of a typical kid, you can decide to be super, at least from time to time. It’s a lot of work, but hey, not as much work as being me!

Step one: Find a kid with disabilities (KWD). If your kid is lucky, she may have a KWD in her class at school. These days, even if they spend most of their time in a self contained classroom, KWDs usually go to art or music class with the typical kids (TKs). It would be nice if there were more programs in schools and communities that brought together TKs and KWDs. Maybe you could help start one. That would be super.

Step two: get in touch with the other kid’s parents. You could ask a teacher for help with this, or lurk around after school and keep an eye out for wheelchair vans and service animals. Don’t be nervous about approaching them; most parents of KWDs are dying for more social interaction opportunities–see my previous post. Don’t tell them that their kid is going to be your kid’s Token Friend with a Disability. That might seem off-putting. Just say your kid is interested in getting to know their kid better and how about a play date.

Step three: Work with the other parent and be open-minded. They might be nervous about their kid’s “performance,” especially if part of the kid’s disability involves difficulty with social interactions. Let them know that you have no expectations. Ask what their kid likes to do, and ask them how your kid could be involved.

Step four: explain things to your kid before the play date. Ask the other parent what to tell her, and let her know she is free to ask questions, as long as she is polite. If the KWD has sensory or emotional issues, lay out some ground rules, like “no loud noises,” or “don’t touch his toys without permission.” You should plan on being there for the whole play date, at least the first time.

Step four: remind yourself that your kid will thank you later, if not immediately. He might be bored. He might not understand why you are asking him to do this. It might take some effort and creativity on everyone’s part, but there’s a good chance everyone will benefit. After all, kids are naturally inquisitive and they like to learn new things. And kids want to understand other people, especially people who are different from them. I vividly remember the few people with disabilities that I got to meet when I was growing up, and learning that people live full lives in many different ways was a valuable lesson for me. It’s one that every kid should have the chance to learn.

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