Diversity envelops a wide range of human differences and includes individuals with special needs. To be truly inclusive we must recognize the value of every unique individual and their varying abilities. Parents play a pivotal role in teaching their children about compassion, acceptance and how valuable diversity is. Your child will carry these principles with them throughout much of their life, and the classroom is one of the first places where they will put them into practice.
It’s common knowledge that much of society tends to treat neurodiverse individuals or those with other special needs with less acceptance or indifference. This unfortunate exclusionary behavior is influenced by several factors. Negative attitudes and misconceptions about disability play a significant role in disempowering individuals with disabilities and contribute to their experience of social isolation. A lack of awareness and education can contribute to this behavior, as people may hold stereotypes or harbor fear due to a lack of understanding. Physical and social barriers, such as inaccessible infrastructure and discriminatory practices, inadequate policies, practices, and limited support systems can all further marginalize individuals with disabilities. Why is this important and what can you do as a parent to help your children see differences through a lens of equality and compassion?
Instilling the Values of Inclusion at an Early Age
In the fall of 2022, 95 percent of school-aged students who enrolled in traditional schools were being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), so your children are bound to encounter others with a range of developmental disabilities every day they’re at school. Teaching inclusion to our children is of utmost importance when considering the bigger societal impact. By instilling the values of inclusion and diversity from an early age, we can shape a more equitable and just society. Inclusion education promotes empathy, respect, and understanding among children, fostering a sense of equality and social justice. It helps create inclusive learning environments where every child, regardless of their racial background or special needs, feels valued and included. By teaching children about inclusion, we can reduce discrimination, bias, and prejudice, challenging stereotypes and paving the way for a more inclusive future. Here are some actionable steps and resources to help you reinforce this with your children.
Lead by Example
Children learn by observing their parents’ behavior. Educating yourself about different abilities and needs will empower you to educate your child in an age-appropriate way and equip you to answer their questions along the way. You can research common topics or if you know your child has a peer who has special needs, you can start there! Model inclusive attitudes and behaviors and show respect for people from different backgrounds, abilities, and cultures, and treat everyone with kindness and compassion.
Use Teaching Aids
There are plenty of books out there that help explain unique differences and neurodiversity in a digestible, engaging manner for children. Your local library is a great option for obtaining these books. You can also look online for videos or other resources, too. Remember, these resources will be much more effective if you have conversations with your children about what they have learned or any questions they may have. Having a discussion will help promote remembering the information.
Encourage Open Conversations
Create a safe space for your children to ask questions and engage in open conversations about differences. Teach them about various cultures, beliefs, and abilities. Encourage curiosity and help them understand that diversity is a beautiful aspect of humanity.
Teach Empathy and Kindness
Teach your children to put themselves in others’ shoes and consider their feelings and experiences. Emphasize the importance of kindness, compassion, and helping those in need. Encourage them to stand up against unfair treatment or discrimination they witness. Regardless of their abilities, everyone is a one-of-a-kind individual. Embracing this is a crucial life skill. Even if your child doesn’t interact daily with children who have special needs, fostering friendships with a wide variety of playmates will help expose them to different backgrounds and abilities.
Promote Inclusive Friendships
Encourage your children to make friends with individuals from diverse backgrounds and abilities. Sometimes kids might think that someone who can’t communicate easily or can’t do certain things might not be interested in hanging out. It’s important for your child to know that this isn’t always true, and every kid, no matter their abilities, just wants to be loved and accepted. Have a chat with your child about what they might share in common with a child who has special needs, and encourage them to connect with these kids when it feels right.
Help your children understand that stereotypes and generalizations are not accurate representations of individuals or groups. Teach them to question stereotypes and look beyond surface appearances. Encourage them to form opinions based on personal experiences and interactions.
Teach Your Child Patience
Patience goes a long way in building and maintaining friendships. When your child realizes that kids with special needs can join in on the same activities, although they might have their own unique approach and take a bit more time to catch on, it tends to nudge them toward practicing patience more naturally.
Teach Your Child Boundaries
In school, there are often kids who genuinely enjoy lending a hand. Their willingness to help extends beyond merely distributing materials or leading the line; they’re eager to assist their peers as well. However, when it comes to helping a child who may have different abilities or special needs, it’s crucial for these helpful children to remember to ask for permission before stepping in. This simple act of seeking consent ensures they don’t accidentally make a situation worse or unintentionally upset the child they’re trying to assist. Encourage your child to take a moment to ask before taking action, promoting understanding and respect in their interactions.
These are just a handful of approaches to kickstart your child’s journey toward nurturing an inclusive mindset, both within the school environment and in their broader life. By actively engaging with your children and implementing these strategies, you can help shape their mindset to see differences through a lens of equality and compassion. This will enable them to grow into empathetic, inclusive individuals who value diversity and contribute to a more harmonious society.