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Create awareness. I hear these words most often paired with autism and other special needs, particularly as we near World Autism Day. Each year, I prepare myself for the sea of blue and raw emotion that will wash over me.
[Social media] sharing isn’t necessarily caring
In fact, people are very willing to “light it up blue” and change a Facebook status or image for a day to champion the cause du jour. Facebook tribes everywhere stand in solidarity, jumping on their respective couches: “Different, not less,” they post, or, “My best friend’s sister’s cousin has autism, so I light it up blue!” I’m also sure to see my personal favorite, “Kids with special needs are not weird or odd. They only want what everyone else wants…to be accepted. Is anyone willing to post this in honor of all children who were made in a unique way?” I audibly sigh as my social media cup overflows with awareness and love.
Action, not awareness
Save your stones; I am saying this a bit tongue-in-cheek. Please do, however, pause for a moment to really think about your intention when you light-it-up-blue. Does it mean you support me or other special needs parents? Feel sorry for me, or for my kid? Would your child reach out to mine at the school cafeteria? Would you openly ask if the upcoming class trip is inclusive of ALL students at the PTA meeting? Actions speak louder than a blue Facebook status.
I have to believe in my heart that people are very well-intended, want to show support and simply don’t know how to help. Awareness is important.
Let’s not forget, however, the famous quote “Knowing is half the battle.” Knowing without doing will only get us part way toward inclusion. (Or, similarly, as I like to say around here…Knowing that my kids’ rooms are messy ain’t gonna get ’em clean)
The good news is that you don’t have to plan a march on Washington or single-handedly change public policy to make a difference.
Gestures large and small
For example, I was inspired by a recent conversation with a coworker. She shared her excitement about an upcoming family vacation with her neighbors, because their children had grown up together. They’d never gone on vacation together before because of her neighbors’ hesitation due to their daughter’s special needs. As a result of open discussion, persistence and encouragement from my coworker (and tons of extra planning, I’m sure) they are ALL going on vacation together. In short, every special needs parent needs a champion like this in their lives.
Don’t be afraid to take that step – from knowing to doing. It’s easier than you might think.
10 actions that support inclusion:
- Remind people that judgy-pants are never fashionable: You know, the person who proclaims that ADHD isn’t real, or insists a good spanking will fix those kids. Say something.
- Words Matter. My daughter doesn’t suffer from autism, she lives her very best life with it each and every day (and, by the way, so does our family).
- Teach your children what it means to be inclusive. The school cafeteria is a great place to start.
- Special needs families: support businesses that make a difference. Did a business go above and beyond to accommodate you? Made your life easier? Got your kiddo through that haircut? Write a note to their boss or corporate office. Recommend them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Spend your hard-earned dollars on them.
- Question the status quo. Is the 8th grade trip to Washington DC coming up? The chorus spring concert? The school play? The school dance? Are students with disabilities included? If not, ask why at the next PTA meeting.
- Don’t stare. When you see a meltdown at the grocery store (or any public place), ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
- Know of a neighbor who has a special needs child? Introduce yourself. Make a connection.
- Go to a Special Olympics event. Prepare to be amazed.
- Support organizations that help. Buy the raffle ticket. Donate a basket. Volunteer.
- Extend the invitation. Have a friend who has a child with special needs? Continue to invite them to gatherings and events.
Small but meaningful steps
In conclusion, go ahead and share that blue Facebook post, but please also take thoughtful action. Make a difference.
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