How to Mark National Disabilities Month
This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I never signed up for this; these are just the cards I was dealt. My son is such a great kid and that is really what moms like me want — for you to see the kid first and the disability second. Yes, he needs accommodations and understanding in everyday life because he is different from most other kids. But he’s also just a 7-year-old boy, too. I wish everyone would take the time to understand our kids and help your child understand us. I know – we get stares and I see little kids staring and asking their parents questions. It’s OK to be curious. Even my 4-year-old who lives with this every day, he has questions to ask about why his brother does or doesn’t do certain things.
March and April bring some extra attention to causes related to disabilities. March is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day and March 5 is Spread the Word to End the Word Day, which encourages people to stop using the word R-word. April is Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day is April 2. According to the CDC, 1 in every 88 children has autism, and The Journal of Pediatrics reports that about 1 out of every 6 children has a developmental disability of some kind.
So with those things in mind, I’ve composed a list of things that every person or family can do to participate in Disabilities Awareness. Chances are we all know a family that is raising a child with a disability, and kids with disabilities have a greater than 80 percent chance of being bullied, as do their siblings. Creating awareness and understanding is great step to take in bullying prevention.
- Make an effort to change your vocabulary. It’s not a matter of being overly-PC. It’s about being sensitive and respecting children. I’m not just talking about the R-word, though that is the next thing on the list. There are other phrases that also get said that are really cringe-worthy if you are a parent. Think about things like “They said she might only ever be a vegetable” or “They say she has the capacity of a 2-year-old” (and the child is 15) and imagine what it would feel like if you were the parent. You know what, ask! Most special needs parents would rather open up the communication instead of having you guessing about what to say.
- Take the pledge. Spread the Word to End the Word has an online pledge and other information to read and share. This is not an item up for discussion anymore. Plain and simple, it’s not OK to say it. Don’t try to justify it; just take it out of your vocabulary.
- Offer to run an awareness program at a Sunday school class, scout troop or other related group. I recently put together a list of Disabilities Awareness Resources and shared them with my son’s preschool director. She actually helped me with some of the resources and they are going to do it as a unit at the preschool. How cool is that? Literally hundreds of preschoolers in our community will be made aware of others’ differences, which is just so awesome. You can make this happen in your community, too.
- Reach out to a special needs mom. This can be a very isolating life sometimes. I get tired of only talking about IEPs and medical appointments and would love to just talk about normal stuff or shop for an afternoon.
- Make an effort to reach out to a neighborhood family or one you see at church and try to include them. Our kids don’t often get invited to birthday parties and play dates. Our kids often lack the skills to make friends but would very much enjoy being around typical children, even if the play doesn’t look like normal play.
- Add bullying and differences to your dinner table conversation. Bullying seems to be on everyone’s radar these days, so bring it to your dinner table conversation. Are your kids seeing other kids (who are different) being made fun of? Encourage them to reach out and be a friend, be a hero. Sometimes all it takes to end a pattern of bullying is for one strong person to stand up and say something. Encourage your child to be that person.
- Support a charity and not necessarily just with money! There are many ways you can support a cause. Of course monetary donations are always welcome, but it’s not just money. You can sometimes collect bottle caps, Box Tops for Education, run a 5k or 10k that supports a charity, use a search engine (like goodsearch) that supports a charity…even Amazon now has Amazon Smile which supports charities when you shop on Amazon.
- Inclusion works! Remember that everyone is better for this. There are many studies that show that children who are aware of the differences of others, who do participate in inclusive classrooms and extra-curricular activities, who are the friend instead of the bully….they are better at life. Everyone, not just the child with disabilities but the typical child too, does better academically, psychologically and score better on overall happiness tests as compared to those who do not make the effort. Inclusion works, it really does!
Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.