Chances are good, your kid goes to school with a child with some type of disability or special need. If you’re not specifically familiar with their disability, the thought of planning a playdate or inviting them to a birthday party may seem a bit overwhelming or even frightening. You may think, it’s not worth the effort, and don’t bother. As a special needs parent, let me reassure you in the strongest way possible, we want the invitation.

We want nothing more for our children to not just be “integrated” into regular classrooms, but to be included and accepted by their peers. We want them to experience typical childhood joys like other children so very badly. Invite us, we will go out of our way to move mountains to make it work. Here are some things you can do.

1. Send an email or DM with the invitation, or a note through their teacher. In my sons class, they use agenda’s and pouches to send home notes and correspondence. His teachers are more than happy to pass along notes and such. If your school doesn’t do this, then Facebook and social media may be the way to go.

2. Make the activity clear in the invitation, this allows us the opportunity to assess if the activity is appropriate.

3. Set the day and time.

4. Let us know if other children have been invited or who else will be there.

5. Invite the other parent to stay if they would like.

An example of a great invite: Jim would like to know if John can come over Saturday from 1-2pm to play in the backyard. We have a swing set, sandbox and water table. His little brother Jake and Sarah from their class will also be there. You are more than welcome to join us up on the deck for nachos. Please let us know if there are any accommodations we can make to ensure this is successful for everyone!

An invitation like this gives us a chance to rehearse and prep our child for attending, setting expectations and easing their anxiety.

Acknowledging that sometimes accommodations might need to be made, lets us know that you are already aware of their situation and makes it easier for us to broach the subject of their disability with you without risk of scaring you off. In some cases, we might ask if there are stairs we need to know about if our child is in a wheelchair or walker, or if there are safety risks for our stimuli seeking little ones like swimming pools. We want to work with you to make the date successful for everyone.

Inviting us to stay makes it easier for us to accept your invitation. Being there in case we need to step in to remove our child from a situation that may be too much stimulation for them, will prevent embarrassment to our child, who may behave negatively because they are overwhelmed and can’t handle and process their emotions as quickly as other children can. Plus, who doesn’t like nachos?!?

On a more personal note, one of the things we do as parents to a child with Autism is practice. We practice situations of all types in various ways. We create social stories. We discuss appropriate reactions and behaviours verbally, we go over all possible scenarios and what we can do it each case. But, the best practice is actually going out and doing the things. We may have to cut our visit short if it all becomes too much, but, trust me, the more we are invited to participate, the better our child gets at adapting. And eventually, it becomes easier for everyone.

Are you a parent of a child with special needs? What suggestions do you have for other parents when it comes to planning playdates and parties?

Swears a lot and sings poorly.

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