Tuesday, June 5, 2018

When do you help your child with disabilities interact with other children?

We were at a jam-packed barbecue on the weekend with kids of all ages running around. Some were jumping on pogo stocks. Ben and his little buddies were all over the climbing gym. A few kids were playing with a red wagon on the driveway, and Max got it into his head that he was going to pull a bunch of them around.

One of the kid looked at Max, said "Uh-uh" and jumped out. That left two boys. They looked to be about 8 years old. Max was having trouble moving the wagon off the embankment it was on, and I was worried that the cart was going to overturn. I'd been standing in the background, watching from behind a gate, but I jumped forward and said, "Here, Max, I'll help."

I hadn't wanted to get involved. I wanted Max to interact with these children on his own. As soon as I pulled the wagon forward, I walked back to the gate. But as I watched Max pull the wagon, struggling hard, it started sliding down an incline leading to the road. I didn't want it to go zooming into the street so again, I dashed out of the gate and ran down to stop the cart.

"Maybe this isn't a great way to play, and there's something else you guys can do!" I said. But the two boys climbed out and walked away, leaving me standing there with Max. He said, "Awwww."

I felt awful. And helpless; what should I have done? I wanted Max to be independent, but I didn't want to risk those kids getting hurt. Of course, children playing together unattended can (and do) get their fare share of boo-boos—I just wanted to make sure my teen wouldn't be the cause of that.

Max doesn't often hang with peers his age who don't have disabilities. At gatherings like this, he tends to gravitate toward younger children, who sometimes don't know what to make of him. At our recent neighborhood block party, Max and I met a little boy.

"Why does he talk like that?" he asked as Max stood there.

"People talk in different ways, and that's Max's way of talking—right, Max?" I said. And to the boy: "He does understand what you're saying." Max is nonchalant about exchanges like this. I do my best to facilitate, so that Max is included in the conversation and the child can begin to get to know Max.

Yet conversations are one thing; playing is another. Trying to look-after-but-not-look-like-I'm looking-after Max as he plays with younger children is tricky.

That day at the barbecue, I told Max that maybe he could pull Ben around the wagon. Ben refused to leave the climbing gym but the next day, after I got home from work, we took Ben out in his little car and Max did the pushing. It wasn't the answer I was looking for, but he enjoyed it.

Image: Flickr/James M. Turley


  1. Could you have a conversation with Max about how, since the other kids are younger, it's his responsibility to be careful so sometimes he can't do things like pulling them in a wagon on a hill? If you frame it as him being the older, responsible one and give him some specific ideas of cool things he *can* do, it might not feel so much like you are being the party pooper. Even bring along something he likes to do (game, toy ect) that qould be fun for him to share with other kids.

    It *is* reasonable for you to stop him from doing things that could put much younger children in danger. He will have to learn his limits and as a disabled adult I completely understand that that sucks, especially when it makes it even more difficult for him to socialize <3.

    1. Jamie, this is excellent advice, thank you. The next time we're going to be around younger children, I'll have this conversation with Max and maybe pick out some iPad games he might be able to play with them, or bring along a t-ball set (he's pretty good at that).

  2. Please don't take this the wrong way, but you may be highlighting your child's disability by jumping in. Could it be that the other children lost interest because he wasn't doing a great job and they were bored, that his disability had nothing to do with it. Children are pure of heart unless they sense otherwise, usually from an adult. You will have to use your imagination to find an activity in which your son is as capable as others his own age or settle with his interaction with younger children. When my son was younger, we did a lot of relay races, egg on a spoon... it gave the kids a chance to play together while excelling individually.


Thanks for sharing!

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