Children learn in a variety of ways and perhaps one of the most significant ways is from their peers.
How a child is viewed by their peers has a deep impact on their self-esteem and development as they grow. Being outcast and excluded from a peer group can have a profound negative impact on any child. Children who are different in any way usually have a larger risk of being excluded.
However, being included in a peer group, especially when a child is different in some way, can have a profound positive impact on a child’s development.
Inclusion builds a child’s self-esteem and allows them to have positive interactions with peers to grow and learn how to build relationships. When these interactions are absent from a child’s life, the emotional skills that are built upon them don’t have a chance to develop.
Any challenge in a child’s life, such as autism can go from being isolating and creating more problems to being a source of strength. Being included and supported by a peer group makes the difference.
Children, like adults, can be amazing creatures capable of unbelievable compassion and love. How do we encourage them to be inclusive of those who are different? Especially as the parent of a different child?
First, be open and honest. Any child who is different should be upfront and confident about it. Often our attitudes about ourselves set the tone for others attitude for us.
As parents, we can get in touch with leaders in childrens lives, like teachers and administrators and ask them to talk openly about a friend who is different and be the example on how to treat them by including them in as many group activities as possible.
When children see giving someone needed accommodations is normal, it will become natural to them. This helps all children with anything that makes them different, even those with temporary injuries or disabilities.
Another important part of encouraging inclusion is to not let insults sting. It is almost inevitable that at some point anyone different, especially as a child, will have insults flung at them. If they are given the power to upset the child, they will continue and possibly grow in frequency and abundance.
This is often one of the most challenging social aspects of parenting a child with autism. The most important way a parent can encourage resilience is to practice it themselves. Don’t allow other parent or strangers’ comments to get to you, even online. If your child hears you talking about their comments and can see they’ve upset you, then they will learn that insults have the power to hurt. If they see you not caring about negative comments others say, they will likely also not care about negative comments from their peers.
The best way to encourage inclusion is to keep spreading awareness about autism. As people, we often fear what we don’t know or understand, the more everyone knows about autism the less they will fear it.