Inclusion and Mainstreaming has long been a back and forth quandary. How inclusive must a classroom be? If the special needs student doesn’t understand numbers should they be in a regular math class? If this student has a buddy to help in an art class, should they be welcomed with mainstreaming? These are all great debates and questions for the classroom but what about family functions and other “social life” issues? With the holidays coming up, we might be nudged once again to the reality that we don’t always fit in, even in our own extended families; so discovering some ways to socialize might be helpful for now and into the New Year!
When Joey was in school (and we’re including all through the high school years), he was invited to one, yes one, birthday party of a “typical” child who lived in our neighborhood. We were so excited, and did let him go, but we knew he couldn’t go on his own, so we asked if one of us could attend to help. The family was so gracious to invite him and allow our help at the party as well as with Joey. That was the first and last time he went to something other than a family function.
So, how do we, as parents and families try to fit in (both within our families and society) so that our child with special needs can have some experiences we hope for them? Here are 7 ways we tried/try to give our son some of the experiences to “fit in” under our supervision and within our abilities and his:
- We would invite one family at a time over for dinner (we can name a handful of families who ever had our family over during those years or raising our families) and provided playtime for the children after dinner. I (Cindi) made costumes for boys and girls that were “one size fits all” and they would play for hours with those clothes! Sometimes we adults would have coffee nearby so we could “watch and listen” but also have time for ourselves to talk and enjoy grown up company.
- Calling a mom or two who had a child with special needs (a neighbor or perhaps classmates) and planning a meeting at our local park was a favorite. We’d go from one apparatus to another helping our kids play and socialize together and try to have a bit of conversation as moms.
- Others would be invited to our home for holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) so that all of our children could learn to be with others besides family. Also, adding a “new” face to a family function changes the dynamics with new personalities, which sometimes is a really good thing!
- Things like Special Olympics can be a great activity. We had our son Joey (now almost 40) participate for a while, until he made it clear that it “wasn’t his thing” – but for many it can be! At least we tried! (He really love a tee-ball team for all types of disabilities. Both teams won every game! FUN!)
- CHURCH-Many churches have special needs programs and can be a great way to “fit in”. If you don’t have a program at your church, connect with https://www.keyministry.org/ whose tagline is: “A church for every child.”
- A waiver program which allows respite for us while someone (happens to be someone who is a dear friend on this waiver caregiving) takes Joey once or twice a month for an outing: Putt Putt, a movie, bowling, etc.
- A parent in our “circles” who has a son with Down Syndrome plans outings and monthly we get the list of what is planned. We appreciate their work!
As you pack up your gear to go to someone’s home for the holidays, we hope you’ll feel welcomed and a part of the party; however, should it be a challenge, we hope you’ll try a few of these ideas in the New Year to find ways to “fit in” to the special needs social scene!
Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini share their newest book: Love All-Ways: Embracing Marriage Together on the Special Needs Journey (order at www.cindiferrini.com). They are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several blogging sites on marriage, family and special needs. They speak nationally for FamilyLife Weekend To Remember Marriage Get-a-Ways, authored Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Janet Parshall at “In the Market”, Chris Brooks of “Equipped” and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at:
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