Something amazing has been happening on our block this spring. Max is playing with other kids. I mean, really playing and hanging out with them. And they are doing it right back. There are bike races and swinging and running around and giggling. (The purple bike lasted for one day, in case you're wondering; Mushball Dave got it at Max's request, but it was too much bike for Max to handle.)
Life around here wasn't always this way. I can still picture the look of fear on one little girl's face when Max would get too close to her. Another kid once muttered, "I don't want to play with him. He's dumb." But these days, those kids and the other ones in our 'hood accept Max for who he is. This is partly because they're used to him, and partly because they've gotten to know the bright, cheerful, fun-loving kid behind the disabilities. I have their parents to thank as well; I'm lucky to be surrounded by down-to-earth, open-minded moms and dads who do not think that kids with special needs have cooties—and who have taught their kids the same.
Several parents have mentioned that their kids sometimes talk about Max. Like the mom who told me that her child said something about Max taking a longer time to learn how to ride a bike. She responded that even if it takes Max longer to do things, he still achieves them, and that people do things on their own timeline. Love her.
Warm welcomes and inclusion are not the typical responses in situations where kids don't know Max, like on vacation. Max doesn't notice the stares and occasional snickers, but I do, and they hurt. What happened to him at that gym a couple of months ago still haunts me.
Kids who don't know Max may only see a kid who is not able to talk like they do, who walks and runs a little differently, who occasionally drools. They may have trouble accepting differences and getting that Max is like them in many ways. Sometimes, on vacation or at a playground, I'll intervene to get kids interacting with Max. It's more rare that other parents there make that effort.
Kids will be kids. I can try my best to forge connections, but I believe it's up to their parents to teach acceptance and respect and help children understand that kids with special needs are still kids.
What say you? How do the kids in your neighborhood treat your child?