All children want to be included, have friends and feel like they belong. The following tips show how we can do our best to make children feel this way every day. If there is a child who has special needs at your child’s school or childcare centre, here are some things to consider.
Treat the child the same way you would like to be treated. Talk directly to the child. Look at him or her in their eyes when you talk. Do not talk about Joey in front of Joey as if he is not there. Have respect for the child at all times.
Use gestures to communicate. This is helpful for children with language delays, who speak English as a second language or have hearing impairments. Make sure you are in a well-lit area and do not turn away from the person you are communicating with. You can also back-up your gestures with pictures, drawings or written words.
Put the child first, not the disability or diagnosis. A child with special needs should be simply “Jane”, not “Jane who has Cerebral Palsy”, for example. The child’s diagnosis does not define who they are.
Focus on what they can do. Discuss the similarities between the children. “Joey loves applesauce and racecars just like you!” If Joey can wheel up to the bookshelf at the daycare, then invite him to read a book. If Joey can stand in a standing frame at the art easel, then invite him to paint. Try to include the child in every possible activity.
Observe their natural interactions. Most children are good at making friends naturally. If you don’t know what to say, try a smile! Children invite other children to play with them all the time and a supportive daycare staff will find a way to make all children feel part of the group. Don’t over think it. Just be kind.
Ask the experts. The child’s parents are the experts on their child. No one knows the child’s likes, dislikes, needs and abilities better than their parents. Have respect for the family and remember that every child is different. There is no blanket approach to parenting a child with special needs. Ask the child’s parents if you have a question. Respect their wishes or requests. Professionals such as Resource Consultants or Interpreters may be able to work alongside parents to help with inclusion or devices to assist the child at the childcare centre.
Naomi Pelss is the mother of four children, a registered Early Childhood Educator and the manager of a childcare centre. Naomi blogs about life with children at www.morewithfourblog.com.