As a parent, nothing hurts more than watching your child/children suffering. Social exclusion is one of the most painful situations to both witness and experience. This is sadly such a common narrative for those with special needs particularly in children with ASD who are constantly struggling to read and interpret social cues and already find it difficult to fit in with their peers.
We have been so very lucky in our experiences so far. J has such a nurturing class whom he has been with since kindergarden and I am beyond grateful for his dear and accepting friends and their warm loving families. Many others however are not so lucky. Children can be very unkind and cruel in their treatment of other children who don’t fit their social norms. I firmly believe it is up to us as parents to teach our children the importance of valuing all members of society and the fundamental right for social inclusion.
Recently, a fellow medical mum wrote a letter about her son’s distressing experience and I think it perfectly expresses her anguish and why we need to be having these conversations with our families. I am sure there are many of you who will relate to this story and Debra has kindly allowed me to share this important letter in my blog. My heartfelt thanks to you Debra, and I hope the new year brings you and your son much more kindness and inclusivity.
A Call for Families to Embrace Social Inclusion this Christmas.
A look of sadness and confusion washed over my eight year old son's face as he recounted the story to me yesterday. He had just come back from the local shopping centre where he had encountered the majority of his class celebrating another birthday party, but as usual he had not been invited.
"I just don't understand mum" he said his eyes welling up with tears "*Blake is one of my best friends."
I struggle to explain it to him. You see the problem is not with the kids, it's with the parents.
My son has autism. In prep he struggled with emotional regulation - sadly for all concerned he had several violet outbursts - but that was more than two years ago. The children have long since forgiven him, the parents not so much.
In his small school, my son continues to be excluded from everything from play dates to sporting teams to social gatherings. Each year he invites twenty children (the whole class) to his party, and each year he is lucky if he receives one or two invitations in return.
This is far from an isolated problem. I was speaking about this with the mother of another special needs child at the school. She said "Oh, I know, *Theo is the pariah of our year".
It's not just autism, children face exclusion for many reasons - the new kid, the physically disabled kid, the overweight kid...
There are strong links between social isolation (particularly in childhood) and poor mental health. Surely
In out household you can have a tiny party with a handful of best friends, or you can invite the entire class. You can't invite nineteen children out of twenty, even if you "hate" someone.
Social exclusion is recognized as a form of bullying. Not only that, t
The list of famous people who struggled socially and did not fit in to a conventional box is endless including Albert Einstein and more recently Bill Gates, Mark Zukerberg, Steve Jobs...
Some people set out to be exclusive, to dominate the social order, others are just passive enablers. They are happy to go along with the crowd so long as it's not their child who is being excluded.
So, what is the answer? Can I challenge you to be more inclusive in 2020? Arranged a play date with a child who doesn't seem to have many friends, invite the whole class to your child's party - yes, even the "weird" child. It might be the only invitation they get all year, and their parents will be very greatful.
My son himself came up with a beautiful example of what inclusion looks like. He was telling me how the boys at school had formed a club. I thought "Oh no, I know where this is heading" but the story took a very surprising turn. He had been invited to join the club, but he had turned them down. He said "mum, I don't want to be part of their club if my other friends can't join."
If you know the same child is consistently being excluded, perhaps you could quietly ask "Is everyone invited?" If the answer is no, if one child is constantly the one child excluded, perhaps you could politely decline