You and I are at the playground with our kids.
Perhaps we are sitting on a bench, chatting about the stuff moms talk about when they first meet—school, our ridiculous taxes, the best place to get the kids a haircut, the weather, you know.
My daughter walks up to us and I introduce her to you. Her name is Sabrina, and she's 7.
"Hi," you say. And then maybe you ask how old she is. Or where she goes to school. Or if green is her favorite color, because she's wearing a green shirt. Or what her favorite thing to do at the playground is. Or if she's doing anything special for spring break. Or if she's getting hungry for lunch. Or if she knows what a gorgeous mom she has (OK, maybe you don't really say that but this is my fantasy so bear with me).
"Hi," I'd like you to say. And then I'd like you to ask how old he is. Or where he goes to school. Or if purple is his favorite color, because he's wearing a purple shirt. Or what his favorite thing to do at the playground is. Or if he's doing anything special for spring break. Or if he's getting hungry for lunch. Or if he knows what a gorgeous mom he has (see above).
You and I are at the playground and your kid meets my kids.
Your child greets Sabrina.
"Hi," your child says. "Would you like to play?"
Your child greets Max.
"Hi," I'd like her to say. "Would you like to play?"
Do you see?
I want you both to treat my son with special needs the same way you treat his sister, or any kid.
I know he may sound and walk differently than your child does and yes, he drools. Max will probably need me to help answer some questions. Perhaps you or your child won't understand what he's saying, and I'll translate, or he'll use the speech app on his iPad. I'll have to help him up the jungle gym.
But still, he's a kid. He is not defined by his special needs. Other than the visible differences, at heart he is not so different from your child.
Your child may ask what's up with Max when we're out of earshot. Be straight up: Tell her that his muscles and mouth don't always move the way he'd like them to, but inside he's like any other kid. My son's personality isn't disabled. His desires to play and learn and have fun and down copious amounts of chocolate ice-cream aren't disabled.
The other day, Max's teacher asked him to share something he wished for.
This is what he came home with.
My son wants to make friends. He'd like to chat with you and your child at the playground. Of course, not all kids with special needs are like this; some are more shy, some have challenges with social interactions.
What I'm saying is, they are all still kids. And they deserve to be treated that way.
This post was inspired by a commenter on last week's video about the r-word. "What would be the best way to explain Max to my 6-year-old daughter when she takes notice and asks, 'What's going on with that kid?'" she asked. I've written about this a lot; recently, I asked other parents of kids with special needs to weigh in. How parents and kids can interact with kids who have special needs is a question that keeps coming up. And I think it's an important one to keep answering.