As homeschooling families grow in number, so does the number of families with kids who have special needs. Homeschool groups and co-ops have opened their hearts to include students who may struggle with academics, medical conditions, or behavior issues.
There are, however, sometimes growing pains when learning how to include those with special needs as not all activities will be easy for all kids to attend without stress. Ideally, all events will work for all kids. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to open our ears and minds so we can hear what families tell us their kids need so that everyone can have a great time while learning and socializing.
Listen to the Issues at Hand
Make sure to listen to those who have special needs. They and their families will be able to tell you what helps and what doesn’t.
If a child is scared of water, make sure to host events that do not include water at least part of the time. This way the child can have opportunities to socialize and learn without fear of something that triggers them being present during an event. If a child becomes aggressive when an event includes competitive games, find out what activities would go well for the child and consider incorporating these into the event.
Consider how best to handle a stressed-out child. Would the parent be present and help or is this a drop-off activity where the organizer may need to step in? If you do need to step in, how should you react in order to help the child calm down or feel less stressed-out? Don’t assume you know what to do. Have the parent and child let you know what is best before attending events.
Think Outside of the Box
Many families deal with food allergies. If a child is allergic to dairy, try to avoid that food during events. Often there are alternatives available that will work for most or all group members (soy ice cream, almond milk, coconut yogurt). Another option is to have events without food or drink involved. This may limit the length of time you will meet but will also allow a child to avoid allergens or foods that behavior more difficult for the child to manage.
Remember that food allergies present in different ways. Just because there are no outward signs doesn’t mean there is no allergy. Also, allergies vary in severity. One child may get a rash while another may pass out and yet another child may have gastrointestinal issues. All of these issues are serious, though some require immediate emergency care. Considering allergens when planning events is extremely important because of these issues.
You don’t have to fully understand why or how something affects another person to be compassionate and inclusive. Sometimes special needs of others may seem odd or different to you or your kids. That’s okay. What isn’t okay is ignoring what those with special needs say is an issue for them. If someone only likes small events, then they may choose to attend small events only. This needs to be accepted in your group even if you prefer people to attend every event. If touching bothers a child, then do not play games where touching is required (tag, red rover, dodge ball) but perhaps try other games such as “Mother May I”.
Also, recurring events you host may have to change a little bit to better include all members. You may have to forego the loud music at a party and use a lower volume in order to help children with sensory difficulties. You may need to allow parents to attend field trips or be an aid to their kids with special needs during co-op classes rather than choosing only a few parents to help during this type of event.
Everyone is Special
Because you care, you want to help. This is a huge support for families whose children have special needs. Your support and acceptance is important to the success of each and every family in your group. Your patience and effort will pay off. In the end, your group of friends will end up stronger and more enriched because you learned who to help one another.