Children with and without disabilities are meeting face-to-face much more often than they were 20 years ago. Whether it is through the rapidly rising movement towards inclusive education that is bringing children together in the regular classroom, or through one of the hundreds of inclusive playgrounds or recreation teams popping up across the country, children with and without disabilities are forming friendships every day.

How can we as parents put aside any preconceived notions we have and help our children become friends with children who have a disability, despite their differences? It's easier than you may think.

  • Parents of children with disabilities don't expect other parents to become experts on their child's condition, but would find it reassuring and even heartwarming to meet parents who take an interest in their child and their child's condition. Asking questions is a welcome opportunity to learn about the child and her strengths, limitations, allergies, medications, and treatments. Showing that you see their child as a human and not a disability will allow the other parents to be comfortable and trust you. In addition, knowing that you understand the importance of a medication and treatment schedule will allow them to trust that you will stick to it and truly take care of their child when she is in your care.
  • Both sets of parents should talk about how they would like the children's friendship to develop and what they envision for play dates and birthday parties. Talk to each other honestly and focus on the similarities the children share rather than any differences, including activities and snacks they both enjoy. Once you know what the other child likes and is capable of and how much supervision is needed, you will be better prepared to invite them to your home for an afternoon.
  • Take small steps and include the parents in the first get-together. This will allow you to see how the other parents interact with their child with a disability. Observing how the parent handles certain situations, assists the child, and supervises the child will help you be prepared for the child to come to your home without her parents. It will give the parent of the child with a disability the opportunity to show you their methods and feel more confident leaving their child with you.
  • Check to make sure your home is safe for the child. If the child is in a wheelchair, is your home accessible to her? If the child is prone to wandering off, are you able to lock your doors during the visit? Is your pool safely locked and unable to get to? Does the child have a service dog that will need to be with her when she visits your home? You should be prepared for all situations that may arise. Have a list of emergency contacts for the child, including the parents' and doctor's information.
  • Do not point out the child's differences to your child. If your child has questions about why the child can't do some of the things that he can do, be honest and talk about what they can do together to have fun. More often than not, a child won't notice the more subtle differences and will simply see this child as his friend. There is no need to bring anything to your child's attention unless it is necessary.

The children of this generation will be more tolerant than the last, as is true for each generation. Let them lead the way as they form friendships with children who are different from them, and put aside any of the ideas or preconceptions you may have formed over the years. Including children with disabilities in everyday activities and allowing your child to build friendships with them will lead to a more accepting community. As these children grow into adults, our world will become a more sympathetic and compassionate place because of these childhood friendships.

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