You need to bear with me on this one. You may completely disagree with me in the beginning and you may think I’m being disrespectful or ungrateful. But honestly, stick with me and I think you’ll understand what I am trying to say.
Don’t praise your typical child for playing with mine.
This is something that’s been on my mind a bit, I’ve been trying to work out what I actually feel about it. I mainly think about it when I picture River in school, when I see him socializing and playing with his friends. You see, River will go to main stream school and have ‘typical’ friends. In Africa it will be very hard for him to have friends with Down syndrome as we just don’t know of anyone, although I know Rivers character and I don’t doubt for a second that he will have a friendship circle.
Would you praise a child for playing with a typical child?
What worries me isn’t how children accept him; I just know they will. It’s how adults look upon those friendships. Children learn from us, they are influenced by our views and our perceptions and if we see inclusion as a big deal then so will they. And it’s not even that adults may not accept these friendships that bothers me, I don’t think anyone would necessarily see it as a negative thing if their child was friends with River. The thing that plays on my mind is, would they think there child was worthy of praise for playing with my child with Down syndrome? That an adult may think a child was special or exceptional for accepting and playing with the disabled child.
Do you understand what I am trying to say yet? For example, would you praise a child for playing with a typical child?
I give praise for kindness
My son Skyler is 5 and believe me when I say I praise him a lot and always will do. I would praise him for playing with a child who felt lonely and I would praise him for making someone smile when they were feeling sad. I would praise him for being kind and thoughtful, and I would praise him for thinking of others.
What I wouldn’t do is praise him for going to play with a happy child who happened to have Down syndrome. I wouldn’t praise him for sitting and chatting to a child who happened to be missing a limb, or looked different to him or may be blind.
That’s just friendship right? It’s a child playing with another child. The instant we tell a child that he is great because he plays with people who are ‘different’, then we reinforce those differences.
Please don’t misunderstand me
I am more grateful than you will ever know to the parents out there who teach their children to accept and embrace differences. I know exactly what it is you are trying to do, and I know that in your eyes it’s a beautiful thing to see your child being so accepting.
Those of you who encourage their children to see beyond what people look like, and teach them that everyone is a person regardless of their physical or mental abilities, is a wonderful parent in my eyes. I am so thankful to the parents who accept River for who he is and whose children will follow in their footsteps.
I am so thankful to those of you who answer your children’s questions, who don’t feel embarrassed when they ask about my son and who just treat him like he is a little boy. But please try and see it from my eyes. Keep teaching your children to be good human beings, to be kind, accepting and thoughtful. Just don’t make them feel that interacting with a disabled person is unique or special, because actually, it’s just the way it should be.
Two children playing together, one with Down syndrome and one without should not be seen as a novelty. Think of it like this. If the typical child gets seen as a wonderful child for playing with a child who happens to have a disability, where does that leave the child who is disabled? If the typical child is the ‘helper’, what does that make the disabled child? Does he/she need to be grateful? Could it not be the fact that he/she happens to just be an awesome child that’s the reason other children want to play with them?
I really hope you understand what it is I’m trying to say. I just want my son to be seen as a valued friend, not as someone to be pitied and felt sorry for. I want to him to be an equal in a friendship and I want people to realize that he has something to offer to. I certainly don’t want him to feel grateful that children play with him as surely that’s the right of any child.
Let’s teach our children to not only accept differences, but to embrace them and love them.
I urge all of you who don’t have a child with a disability, to put your child in situations where they interact with other children who do. In fact, let’s not just limit it to different abilities, but to children who are of different color, culture or religion to. Any difference you can think of! Let’s teach our children to not only accept differences, but to embrace them and love them. That is what the world needs more of and it’s only through the younger generations that we can achieve this. Because let’s be honest, if the world carries on the way it’s going, we’re all pretty much screwed.
I’m not just saying this for my benefit, it’s not only River who will benefit from being friends with your child. I promise you that if your child is lucky enough to be friends with mine, then it’s equally beneficial for both of them.