Mia and Fynn are on their way back to school on Tuesday. Summer flew by. I’m sure you all feel it. Back to school. Back to packing lunches. Back to activities. And back to worrying if Mia will make friends.
More than once…well lots of times…my friends have expressed to me a worry that their kids might say something uncomfortable around Mia. They might wonder why she doesn’t talk yet. Why she still might need a stroller at times. Just in general, “Why is she different?”
First, I’d like to assure anyone who has worried that their kids might say something inappropriate that I don’t even think about it. It’s not something I worry about, actually. Sure, there are times when a comment stings a bit. But those comments usually come from adults not kids.
Here’s why. Letting your child play with Mia or inviting her to play dates or letting your kids ask questions breaks down that big giant wall between typical and different. Kids fear what they don’t know. They fear different, until they realize that different isn’t all that different from them.
Each week, for writer’s workshop, I send in a photo of what Mia did that weekend. One time it was going to Discovery World. One time the zoo. After Easter, I sent in a photo of Mia dying eggs. What I found out later was that her teachers were not only using them for Mia’s writing projects, they were using them to show the other students how much like them Mia really was. “Mia dyed eggs last weekend, see? How many of you dyed eggs last weekend?” You’re more alike than different.
And this is why inclusion is so important for everyone – Mia and the other students. When you learn about people with disabilities from knowing them, disability becomes normal. It becomes a part of the conversation, and it takes away the stigma.
I learned this lesson before Mia went to school from an incredibly gracious teacher in a check-out line at Target. Fynn has always been a naturally curious kid who genuinely appreciates other people for their differences. As his K5 teacher said, “He is one inclusive little guy.” We were standing behind a woman who had dwarfism. And Fynn looked at her and said, “Oh my, you are very small.” I wanted to, of course, disappear into the floor, and I scolded Fynn a bit for being so brash. Mia was in the cart, and I was ashamed I hadn’t taught my own son to be polite to people with disabilities. She turned to me and said, “Let him ask me questions. I’m a teacher, and I’m used to children’s curiosity. Let him ask.”
Let them ask. And if you’re too nervous to ask a stranger. You can ask me. I promise I won’t be offended.
When you send your kids to school, please talk to them about differences. Talk about the fact that people have all sorts of different abilities. Talk about helping other students but not doing the work for them. Talk about the fact that everyone has inherent value.
And let them ask. It’s the only way you get to know someone.
Happy new school year everyone!