By Molly Crawford
Many years ago, my second grade teacher collaborated with a teacher at a special needs school to create a buddy program. Throughout the school year we visited our buddies at their classroom and they came to visit ours. In preparation for the first trip, our teacher told us some of what to
expect. While we would notice some differences between ourselves and our buddies, our teacher emphasized there were far more similarities among us. Throughout the school year, we played together, we dressed up at Halloween together, and sang Christmas carols together. We were children plain and simple. This experience truly taught me compassion and empathy. In fact it is a huge part in how I came to my current career path.
Many parents, teachers, grandparents, babysitters, etc. wonder how to answer questions about disabilities and how to promote inclusivity. During this season of giving we hope to provide you with some ways and resources to give those you care for one of the greatest gifts of all: the gift of acceptance.
To start, let’s look at some books. The following stories provide insight into differences and similarities for children before they may even engage with someone who may be perceived differently. Bonus point: books make great gifts.
Children’s Books that teach acceptance and inclusivity:
This story highlights the importance of different communication methods: verbal and non-verbal. In particular it showcases using a tablet as a form of communication and the story is told from the perspective of a boy with non-verbal autism. The author has autism and has two children with autism.
While this story focuses on the classroom, it still benefits a reader outside of school. It showcases that we meet people different from us everywhere, but that we can learn from each other.“Our strength is our diversity.” Written in a prose-like format with beautiful, bright illustrations this book is excellent for opening the door to conversations about acceptance and inclusion.
This beautiful story invites you into people’s homes and creates environments that normalize, rather than emphasize disabilities instead of emphasizing the disabilities. This helps create connections and helps children find and look for those connections to others.
Young Adult books that teach acceptance and inclusivity:
This book is written under the category of own-voices or a book in which the author shares a similar identity with a character. This book highlights what are often referred to as “hidden disabilities.” It follows the story of a main character with a hidden disability that makes it difficult to learn and how she and her friend work together to ensure her success in college.
Another own-voices book, this story of a teenage girl with autism, focuses on embracing self-acceptance. Beautifully written, this story highlights the exquisiteness of individuality.
In this collection of non-fiction stories, readers engage with famous musicians, athletes, artists, etc. who have/had disabilities. The stories highlight the accomplishments of these individuals to normalize disabilities by putting the person first. These short stories are great for younger readers to read with an adult or in a group and excellent for older readers to delve into individually as well.
While books are a wonderful primer to discussions on acceptance and inclusion, children often ask questions or make comments in the moment. It is important to know how to handle impromptu conversations about disabilities.
What about when my child asks me a question about someone with a disability or comments about someone that they perceive different from themselves?
On average a young child asks about 300 questions a day (Kids Ask 300 Questions A Day. What Stopped Our Curiosity As Adults?). Sometimes adults may perceive their questions as rude or inappropriate. Oftentimes these questions provide excellent learning opportunities. Instead of saying “don’t stare” or shutting the question down, answer honestly and directly. For example, if a child asks about a feeding tube you can answer with what it’s called and explain that while some people eat through their mouths, others eat through their stomach. This response helps promote understanding and normalcy of the situation. Allowing questions and engaging childhood curiosity helps to promote acceptance and inclusion (10 Strategies for Talking to Kids About Disability).
How do I encourage my child to practice inclusion?
Most importantly maintain positivity in all conversations. To keep the conversation positive and inclusive you can point out similarities between them or ask them what’s similar. For example, perhaps they both love dogs or their favorite thing to do is play soccer. You can encourage them
to introduce themselves on the playground and invite them to play with them.
As children grow older, cliques develop, and the world of inclusion may feel smaller especially when most times all children want to do at that age is fit in. While some of the books above may help create greater understanding, parents, guardians, grandparents, any type of caregiver can promote inclusion through conversation and learning. Provide tools to learn about specific disorders such as ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. Discuss ways to help them make sure everyone feels included. Ask them how they feel when they are excluded. These discussions help promote empathy and encourage children/teens to learn how to problem solve and intervene when they see others being mean or bullying those that they perceive differently.
How can I model inclusion for my children?
Children emulate what they see. Provide opportunities for them to engage with diverse individuals and use person first language when talking about people with disabilities. If you’re unsure about how to be more inclusive-adapt. For example, if you are playing a game you can always adapt the rules or format to make it accessible to all players. If you’re unsure about how to interact with people with disabilities-interact with them more. If you feel like you don’t understand disabilities enough- research them. If an entire class of second graders can play and engage with a group of special needs second graders you have the capability to demonstrate inclusive practices.
For more information on inclusion and disabilities check out some of these resources below.
*Three Rivers Community Care does not receive any reimbursement from any purchases made as a result of this blog post. We have shared these books and information on where to purchase them because we believe strongly that these books offer benefit to readers.