I’m going to step back into this.
On Friday, the New York Times posted an article in its Parenting section on including children with special needs in birthday parties. (You can find the article here.) I think that readers of this blog can already guess that I’m not the type to have kept my opinion to myself.
The premise of the piece was discussing the issue of excluding special-needs children from birthday parties when the entire class is otherwise invited, and how their parents react when these things happen. As I stated in the comments,
As the parent of a special-needs child (my 4yo son is autistic), I want my son invited to parties, get-togethers. It’s the only way he’s going to learn about socializing with others and perhaps pick up the behaviors himself.
I want the parents of the child to understand that my son might not understand about playing with other kids, that he might need us to be involved to keep him involved with the party and not off on his own.
I want the parents to understand that WE, our son’s parents, feel isolated and rejected when our child isn’t included – our son’s not cognizant enough of things at this point to realize he’s missing out.
I’m more proactive than most – I DO say things to parents who exclude my child, and I call them out publicly for doing so when my child is the only one excluded. If you exclude my child for being autistic – you DESERVE to be called out publicly. If your child is the one who didn’t want my son invited, then you, as the parent, should have stepped in.
As to what I say in these cases – it’s the same thing I’d say if I were the parent of a ‘typical’ kid. I wouldn’t want my child excluded for any reason, and I’d like to think that all parents feel that way.
Now, this speaks to something that I say frequently in real life – I’m just NOT a nice person. I don’t have to be nice where my children are involved. If a person I interact with cannot show a reasonable amount of human decency when it comes to my child, then I don’t have to engage in the play of politeness that we all do in public and pretend that I didn’t notice.
And yes – I have called out parents, publicly, for excluding the Monster from a birthday party invite. And I don’t care about the parents’ feelings, or if it makes me look like a jerk in public. The Monster doesn’t know the difference if he was included or not, but I do. As I said – if you exclude my child from a party, and I find out that he was the only one excluded, I’m going to make sure that everyone knows what you did.
To be fair – I also only do this when I know that he’s the only one excluded from his classes. Even I understand that sometimes, the parties are very small, and heaven knows that his birthday party this year was just the kids of a couple of our friends and family. (It was combined with my college graduation party to try to get more of my family to come into town for it.) I’m not going to expect folks having just a handful of kids from his class to include him when not everyone’s invited in the first place And parents who might consider excluding the Monster? Other parents talk. You’d be surprised how often you hear, “How’s [The Monster] feeling? We missed seeing you at [so-and-so]’s party.” Uh-huh.
BUT. The more important point, to me, is the opportunity for socialization for special-needs children.
The Monster doesn’t get invited out very often by his peers. Most of the time where he’s going out to play at other peoples’ houses, it’s because the wife’s friends with their parents and they’re having a bunch of friends over so their kids can have a play-date. This extends to birthday parties, to trips to the zoo, things like that – he just doesn’t get much opportunity outside of camp/school to socialize with other children and to have behavior to model. (I’ve yet to find a therapy group in the area with guided play that’d do something much the same.)
That fact is, as a society, we make a great deal out of trying to give everyone opportunities to have a level playing field and to get opportunities to catch up if they’ve fallen behind. I think we have a long way to go before our actions live up to our deeds in this resepct.