We have a little back-to-school tradition in our family. After the fights over buying school shoes (because as much as my daughter would like to, you cannot wear flip flops year-round in Pennsylvania. You just can’t.), after I’ve spent a small fortune on glue sticks and pencils and folders in every color of the rainbow. After the first day of school and learning the bus driver’s name. After all of those first day/first week of school things, we have another little tradition.
This is the day every year that I go speak to our son’s class. Somewhere in the first few weeks of each school year, I go in to our special needs son’s ‘typical’ class and speak to his classmates. This is pre-arranged for a time when he isn’t in the room. I introduce myself to the kids and I read them a book; a story about a kid with a friend who has special needs.
After the story, I talk about my son. Sometimes, our other kids come with me, and they talk to the kids about their brother. They talk about playing with him, about what makes him happy and what makes him sad. About ways he is like other kids and ways he is different. If our other kids aren’t able to make it, I do this part myself. It usually turns into a little question and answer session:
Classmate: “Does he like watching tv?”
Me: “Sometimes. But he prefers watching movies. Right now he’s really into Monsters University.”
Hands shoot up.
“I love that movie.” “Me too!” “So do I!”
Me: “Wow, that’s great! Then you have something in common!”
Another classmate: “What does he like to eat?”
Me: “Well, his favorite dinner is pizza. He also likes spaghetti and meatballs, and tacos. But his favorite thing of all is definitely, definitely ice cream”
The kids go nuts. “I love ice cream!” “So do I!” “It’s my favorite too!”
It goes on like this for several minutes. Eventually, the teacher and I lock eyes in agreement that it is time to wrap this thing up.
“Guys, I’m so glad I got to meet you guys today. My son LOVES being in your class. You seem like really nice kids and you guys all have a lot in common. Thanks for talking to me today!”
Before I leave, I give the teacher a letter from my husband and I, one for each family in the class. The teacher distributes the letters into each kid’s take-home folder. In the letter, I have written a little bit about our family, and a small introduction of our son. I give them the name of the book I read to the class, as well as the names of a few other books that might shed light for them on our son’s condition. I offer our contact information and assure the parents that if they have any questions at all, we would be happy to answer them.
There are probably people out there who think this type of thing should be unnecessary. Who knows? They’re probably right. But for me? I can’t imagine sending my son to school without doing this. Why? Because the world is as accepting as we make it. And kids are going to stay away from something or someone that they don’t quite understand. That’s ok. They’re kids. But I’m a grownup. And if I want kids to accept my son, the least I can do is introduce him to them. So far, it has worked wonderfully. The kindness and acceptance my son—and my entire family—have received from his peers and their parents has blown my mind.
So every year, I’m happy to do it. The world is a scary enough place for anybody who is a little different. If I can help those kids get to know my son, maybe it will make his life a little easier, and maybe it will help other kids, too.
So . . . tell me; what do you do? I know there are countless ways you make the world a little more accepting for your son or daughter, brother or sister. Please comment below and share with us the ways you educate or advocate for your loved one.