Through the years I've had parents actively intervene to keep their kid away from mine. One time a mom told me her family would be in Hawaii during my son's Bar Mitzvah. Then we saw her son walking down our street on the day of the service.
Another time a mom whose child enjoyed being with my son said she didn't want them to play together. She explained that she thought her son was picking up "autistic behaviors" and wanted him with "typical" kids so he'd be "more normal."
I'm not sure which is worse--the parent who clearly states she doesn't want your child anywhere near her own, or the one who lies to get out of potential interactions. I felt like I'd been punched in the gut by both of these moms. And I wondered, why do parents exclude our kids and what can we do when this happens?
Why some parents exclude our kids
1. Because they are controlling: Some parents only want their children to interact with other children who are socially adept. They spend a lot of time orchestrating their child's interactions with other kids. Often kids with special needs of any kind are seen as too difficult to manage.
2. Because they feel unqualified: Many parents aren't sure how to help our kids in social settings. Instead of asking how to make it work, they avoid the interaction.
3. Because it's too much work: Let's be honest--our kids are more work. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't or can't be included in the social lives of others (if both kids are interested in being together).
4. Because they don't want their child to imitate certain behaviors: Some autistic behaviors are confusing to someone who isn't autistic (or the parent of a kid on the autism spectrum). If parents don't like or understand a behavior they might be less likely to include our kid.
What can we do when our kids are excluded?
1. Find a supportive community: I am thankful everyday for my friends and colleagues at AANE. They give me a place to turn to when I feel overwhelmed by too many negative reactions from other parents. Reach out to the supportive people in your life. And remember, AANE and Parenting without Panic are available to parents everywhere.
2. Decide how you want to respond: Depending on the person you may find it helpful to talk with them or limit contact. In the examples I gave, I didn't confront these moms about their behavior because I didn't think it would do any good and I certainly didn't want to debate the merits of my son with others who didn't already see his value. I chose to walk away from them and found other people who were more supportive.
3. Offer ways for kids to connect: I usually hosted kids at my home so that I could help my kids interact with their friends (if they needed it). Sometimes it seemed like parents were okay with our kids playing together as long as I managed it.
4. Share your emotions with adults not kids: It can be devastating to have other parents exclude your child. My kids were usually unaware of the exclusion--but I could feel depressed for days. Share the sting of rejection with other adults you trust, but leave your kids out of it.
5. Do something fun with your child: I always felt better when I got involved in a fun activity with my kids. Sometimes it would be playing a game together. Other times it was going out for ice cream or watching a show they liked. Distraction and calming activities are a good antidote to feeling excluded.
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