Preparing Our Children With Disabilities for the New School Year
It’s August, for many families in the United States, back-to-school season is dawning.
Every new school year holds fresh challenges for every family, from the academics to the friendships to all the other elements that comprise a typical grade-school experience. Parents want the best for their kids and will go to great lengths to ensure their children have all the tools, knowledge and social savvy they need to be successful, popular and well-regarded by peers and teachers alike.
For parents raising children with disabilities, back-to-school season is a little harder than it is for parents of able-bodied or neurotypical children. There’s always a nagging fear of bullying, academic difficulty, issues with mobility and more.
Will your child’s classmates treat your child like a friend or like a prop? Will the child’s teachers be helpful and kind? Preparing both, yourself and your child for the fresh school requires a whole different plane of preparation and forethought, and even then, you find yourself at the mercy of the school culture itself.
The most important thing you can do to prep your child for the new school year is to encourage their confidence. As much as we wish it were different, we can’t email the parents of every single classmate with a list of dos and don’t for how their children should treat your child. We can’t force kids to be nice, and we certainly can’t shield our children from the realities that some kids will be rude or even straight-up mean to them.
What we can do is encourage them daily and remind them of who they are. Praise your child every day leading up to school for their positive attitude, their bright smile or their generosity. As the old saying goes, if you say something long enough, you’ll start to believe it. Make sure your child is confident in who they are — from their personalities to their disabilities — before other students try to define reality for them.
My grandson Elijah, who has Cerebral Palsy, is one of the kindest boys you’ll ever meet, and his love of reading knows no bounds. My family and I remind him all the time we love him for who he is, from his affable demeanor to his physical differences. We want him to be as confident as possible in who he is.
As you shop for back-to-school items, encourage your child to define their own style. Maybe in the past, your child has gravitated towards items with cartoon characters on them but now would rather explore abstract patterns. Let your child be confident in who they are and express themselves how they see fit. Throughout the school year, they’ll face enough people telling them what they should do and who they should be, but as the parent, you can guide your child through self-discovery and continue to offer moral support as your child navigates their personal identity.
Back to school season can be tough, but teaching your child self-love and confidence will certainly make it easier.
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