Momma is dusting off her soapbox again! So grab some coffee and hang on!
Yesterday I was perusing one of my favorite sites, Buzzfeed, and came across a story that really struck a chord. It was a letter written by a mom of a boy with down syndrome, who was the only child in his class to not be invited to a classmates birthday party. It was beautifully written and not an attack or full of hate, as some of these letters can be. It addressed the issue head on and explained the importance of including everyone, special needs or not. You can read the letter here.
We have had this issue in the past. My policy is no birthday parties after you turn nine. It’s just too expensive and stressful. It’s not that I stop acknowledging your birthday, we just do it a different way. Depending on the plans for the birthday party, depends on how many children we invite. For example, for Middle’s eighth birthday, we had it at Chuck E Cheese. (Btw never again) You have to pay per child for this kind of party and while I wish I had the funds to provide two hours of pizza, games and sugar to all of his classmates, I didn’t. So I told him he could invite five friends. He told me which friends he wanted to invite and I sent them invitations privately. I also instructed my son not to brag about it to his classmates, because it might hurt someone’s feelings. There have been instances when he wasn’t invited to a party that his friends were and he had hurt feelings. I explained to him that he can’t always be invited to everything, but for a child, this was a major self esteem blow. Having autism makes him socially awkward as it is. So not being invited to something is hurtful.
Now for his ninth birthday, we had a different kind of party. We reserved the party room at the community center in our neighborhood which was free! So in that instance, I let him invite the whole class. Not everyone could make it, but we included everyone.
In these situations, I feel like unless you’re including all of the students, it should be handled privately. And you should not allow your child to not include someone because they have a disability.
Kids can be mean. They have been for ages. But a lot of that behavior is learned. No one is born with the capacity to hate or to bully others. It is learned behavior. Kids with disabilities may look different or act different than “typical” children, but they still want the same things. They want to be accepted. They want friends. They want love. They are human beings, just like you. And it’s up to us as parents to teach our children to be accepting of others differences.
Oldest hates the fact that he has autism. I’ve tried to get him to embrace it as a part of who he is and what makes him special. But he hates it. He hates that he needs extra help at school. He hates being pulled out of class for speech therapy. He hates that he feels different. And that others think he’s different. Thus far, he hasn’t had much of a problem with bullying, although about a month ago one of his classmates told him he was stupid because he had autism. He came home so angry and it broke my heart. Where would his classmate learn this kind of behavior?
When he first learned of his disability he was seven. When I told him he had autism, he got very emotional. I will never forget it. It’s etched in my brain, along with the day he was diagnosed. He said to me “I knew I was different!” And then, with tears in his eyes, asked me if there was a shot the doctor could give him to make it go away. Heart = broken.
With all of the hate, anger and hostility in the world today, it is more important than ever that we teach our children love, respect and tolerance. Regardless of a persons looks, skin color, disability or sexual orientation, we are all people, and deserve to be treated with respect and acceptance.
*climbs off soapbox