The more I work with children with disabilities, the more I recognize the need to see them as regular kids with different abilities. They have goals and dreams just like their peers. They want us to treat them the same as anyone else. When they don’t get to do what their peers do, they feel left out. Why? First, because they know the situation is unfair. Second, because they need that social growth opportunity.
For the past two days, I’ve heard one of my students lament about the school dance. At thirteen years old, she just wants to attend a social function like any other middle school student. She tells me about her younger sister going to dances and she doesn’t understand why her mom won’t allow her to stay for the dance. Her little sister gets to go to dances. Why can’t she? It is because she has a disability? Her parents feel terror at the thought of something happening to her at a social function because she has a disability?
Even she knows what’s fair and what isn’t. If we wish for our children to grow and mature in today’s world, they must learn to function in all sorts of settings. Maybe that means a school dance, even if we’re terrified. We must have goals for our kids. Goals beyond academic development. Children need to grow socially, emotionally, and academically.
What can we do?
- Sign them up for clubs that they wish to join
- Let them try out for regular sports teams if they show an interest
- Put them in band if they like to play musical instruments
- Allow them to participate in Church Youth Groups
- Take them to social functions, like birthday parties
- Allow them to go to school functions as appropriate (for age), like games and dances
Worried about safety or supervision? Volunteer to help chaperon at school dances or volunteer to help set up at games. This way, you feel secure knowing that you can watch over your child, but your won’t do it in a way that feels intrusive.
After all, you want your child to grow up with good communication skills, social growth, and the ability to navigate a variety of social situations, right? Likely, I will require reminders when my child gets this age, but middle school can be a jungle. If ever there were an opportunity for growth and learning in the area of navigating social situations, middle school provides it.