Being kind in the world begins by kindness fostered in the home. What are you doing to nurture kindness in your child towards differently abled children? Once upon a time, such as when I grew up in the 60s, students with disAbilities were nowhere to be seen. They were sent to institutions (generally no longer an option, which is a good thing) or kept at home. But mothers and fathers of children with special needs fought mightily for their rights for their children to attend schools, then to attend schools with typically developing peers and then to be in classrooms alongside those said peers. So, who won in the long run? We all did.
If children with disAbilities are placed in classrooms with open-minded teachers--not always a given, despite the fact that it's the law--who encourage kindness and inclusion...children will follow along. These peers will grow up to be the doctors and nurses and teachers and aides and therapists and/or parents of children with differences. They learn to care, help, demonstrate compassion and develop their own abilities.
Sadly, many of our prejudices toward people who are different from us come from adults and they are taught to our children. I have a daughter with autism. She's quickly edging out of adolescence. Her friendships have been few and far between, with few ever extending beyond the classroom. In this aspect, it was a lonely life, especially in the early years of her childhood. But one mother in my old neighborhood got it. Even though her daughter was much younger than mine, she always made an effort to encourage her daughter to speak to mine. Others told me they could not make their children speak or play with mine. I still question that. It didn't matter if it was only a hello from that one child, it made my day. My daughter lives in a bubble. I'm not sure she cares. Her autism is on the moderately severe end. She's pretty obliviously happy. But add a peer or two to hang out and socialize, her joy doubles.
In the end, we are all different. I have blond hair, you have brown. She wears glasses. He uses a wheelchair. We all have strengths. My daughter's a crazy-good artist. And we all need help. She needs friends and has trouble talking.
What can you do today to encourage kindness in your child toward children and other people who are different? Believe me, the gestures take root in your child, and your seedling will bring joy to some mother and her child.
by Leisa A. Hammett is an author, speaker and an advocate for people with disAbilities, including her 18-year-old with autism, artist, Grace Walker Goad. Leisa was a moderator for MCM and MomsLikeMe.com during the first seven years of its existence. She blogs at www.LeisaHammett.com and she writing her second book on autism.