As a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, nothing means more than when people figure out a way to include my daughter in the same events as her peers. However, I can also appreciate that people may not be sure how to include children of determination at events whether it’s because the kids are nonverbal, have autism or use mobility equipment like a wheelchair.
This lack of awareness often means that children of determination don’t get invited to birthday parties, playdates or study sessions. While this is hard for them and their families, it’s actually everyone that misses out. Children of all abilities learn from the situations they are exposed to. Children of determination have a lot to offer — they can teach others about grit and resilience. They can help their peers learn problem-solving skills as they figure out how to alter games so everyone can be included. Children of determination help others learn how to be empathetic, which is a life skill that can lead to higher emotional intelligence and awareness, which in turn can help them be more successful at work and as adults.
It’s easy to figure out a way to include children of determination. There are really only three key steps or strategies to follow.
This is the simplest step and should be the first thing you do. You can approach the parents or a child themselves if they are old enough. Explain that you are hosting an event and would love for the child to attend. Ask them what you need to do (if anything) to help them be included and comfortable. Perhaps an accessible venue will help, or the parents would like to know the schedule of events so they can help prepare their child, or they need to have a quiet, calm space available if the child needs a break. Parents of children of determination or the children themselves are the best experts to tell you what they need. Generally people welcome these kinds of questions because it demonstrates you’re caring and considerate, and you can also be confident that you are setting everyone up for success.
Do some research.
Once you’ve asked or you’ve decided to include children of determination in your event, do a bit of research by searching online or simply going back to the first step of asking the child or the parent. Whether it’s learning what may make it more comfortable for children of determination to come to the event, or looking up adapted games that can include everyone, a little effort on your part can really make the children feel welcome.
Sometimes parents may need to bring an attendant to help their child or an older child of determination may prefer that an attendant come with them instead of their parents. Like all families, there are often last minute issues that may come up that prevent them from attending. However, these issues can be specific like a meltdown or seizure or simply a common illness like a cold. Parenting of any kind requires flexibility. We need to adjust based on our kids and their needs and wants. The more flexible you are, the more likely it will be a successful get together for everyone and you’re also modelling a great lesson for your own kids!
Often times, figuring out the logistics of inviting everyone seems the most complex the first time. When you do it once, you realize that it isn’t a lot of extra work. By inviting everyone you make your world more inclusive and raise children who see the value and benefits of inclusion. It’s a win for everyone.
Anchel Krishna is a mom of two daughters, including one with cerebral palsy. She works as a communications professional for a children’s rehabilitation organization in Canada and does some freelance writing about being a parent. Follow Anchel on Twitter.