Don’t Exclude Kids With Special Needs And Disabilities From Birthday Parties

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Katie Cloyd/Instagram

Did you see the recent story about the woman who went on Reddit’s “Am I the Asshole” to ask if she was the asshole for inviting every single person in her kid’s class to a party except for the one child with special needs? Yep, that actually happened. She said she thought he wouldn’t enjoy it because he is autistic.

Thankfully, the response was almost unanimous. Reddit decided that she was, in fact, the asshole.

As the mom of a perfect, adorable whirlwind little boy who happens to be autistic, I want to agree with the internet on this. I want to call this lady an asshole. I want to be angry and stop there. This shit is so unfair, and I am livid that my kid could potentially have a lifetime of these stories ahead of him.

But living in an angry place without taking action won’t make the world kinder for my boy and other kids like him. Kids who exist outside the boundaries of typical development are not burdens to be shouldered or problems to be solved.

They’re children. No child should ever know how it feels to be the only one excluded. Special needs hearts break just like everyone else’s.

Your perception of a child’s diagnosis may not be in line with a kid’s ability at all. My little guy even surprises me, his own mother, pretty much daily. Just a month ago, my friend invited us to a Nerf war in a gymnastics facility. I didn’t know if my little guy would be into it, but my friend called and told me exactly what to expect. She made it clear that he was more than welcome, but she would completely understand if we didn’t think he would be happy there. She included him, and left it up to us to decide. I let him try. He loved it. The chaos didn’t faze him one bit.

I understand that every parent wants their child to have a great birthday party. There are a lot of ways to ensure everyone has a good experience, but excluding kids with disabilities and special needs isn’t one of them. You can still create the environment you are hoping for, no matter who is present.

Here are a few ways you can make social experiences more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone:

1. Get in contact with the child’s parents.

First of all, you should know that it’s totally correct to presume competence. I know you might feel compelled to acknowledge that the child might have limitations, but I assure you, their parents haven’t forgotten. Just assume that their child can and will enjoy the party. Of course, it might not turn out to be their thing. Even typical kids can get totally overwhelmed or bored at social events, but we still generally assume they want to be invited.

Approach mom or dad with the same positive attitude you’d use when inviting any child. Be very specific about the environment and the expectations for each child at the party, but don’t assume their child can’t hack it. Don’t issue a bunch of apologies and warnings. Just present the facts. They already know they have every right to say no thank you. I doubt you could convince them to accept if they didn’t think their child would be happy there. But I guarantee they’ll appreciate being included.

2. Talk to your own child about why kids with special needs are welcome.

Explain to your typical child that some kids are a little different, and that’s okay. Let them know what to expect at their party from their peer with special needs. Maybe their autistic peer will shout, flap their hands, or cover their ears during the happy birthday song. Maybe their classmate with a physical disability won’t be able to join them on the water slide or run around the park, but that doesn’t mean those children can’t or won’t enjoy the party. Tell your child that including everyone is a value that your family chooses. Teach them that being a good citizen of the world means being willing to roll with some atypical behaviors to ensure that everyone can join in the fun.

3. Don’t present special needs inclusion as a good deed or charitable act.

It is not generosity to invite a child with special needs to the party. It’s cruelty to exclude them.

You should present the idea that everyone is welcome as a simple fact of your child’s life. As parents, we shouldn’t encourage our typical kids to view including the atypical kids as “extra nice.” We just want them to recognize that excluding them is totally unacceptable. The focus here should be human decency and lending dignity to people who are different — not inflating your child’s ego.

4. Educate yourself about the kids in your circle and be willing to make reasonable accommodations for their needs.

This is another great reason to talk to the parents. I think most parents who are unfamiliar with autism probably imagine my kid’s needs to be much more complicated than they truly are. If people excluded him based on his diagnosis, he would miss many events that he is able to enjoy just like the typical kids.

No matter what kind of special needs a child might have, it’s totally okay to call their parents and ask if there is any way for your family to make their experience at your home or party better.

Just be careful not to ask personal medical questions. They have a right to privacy.

5. Remember how vast the special needs world is.

Chances are, you’re already inviting kids who have special considerations to your events. You can’t see things like food allergies, congenital heart defects, anxiety, asthma, immune disorders or some variations of autism spectrum disorder. I can guarantee there are already parents at your events mitigating risk, guiding their children through situations where their specific health comes into play, and holding their breath that it all goes well.

Children whose special needs are more obvious have parents, too. We are happy to help our kids have a good time. And trust me, we don’t want them to ruin your party. If a child is miserable enough to ruin your party, they are probably suffering. Like any parent, we want to act swiftly to change whatever is making them so unhappy.

We will take care of our littles so your party can be a good time for everyone. You just have to include our kids to give us a chance to show you that.

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