April is Autism Awareness Month and we did a special story time at home to help educate my little one on being inclusive and playing nicely with all children.
I received a complimentary copy of this book as part of the campaign to raise awareness.
The book we read is called Stewie BOOM! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes, and Playdates by Christine Bronstein. This title is about a little girl named Princess Penelope, and her playdate with a classmate with autism spectrum disorder.
The purpose of this campaign is to create awareness about inclusivity and welcoming children with special needs in our community. This book is geared towards both families and parents of special needs children and families in general.
The book Stewie BOOM! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes, and Playdates is full of lovely illustrations to help convey the purpose of awareness and encourage compassion in children. The book begins with a lesson in how everyone is different, like snowflakes and handprints. It talks about how we all like different things and know different things, suggesting to children to find ways to work together to both enjoy the play time.
I especially liked that the end of the book contains tips for parents to help welcome special needs families for a playdate. It contains great ideas like starting with shorter play dates and encouraging parents to reach out to the parents of a special needs child to ask what they can do to accommodate (especially at children’s birthday parties) the needs of all children. Parenting a child with special needs holds unique challenges and, as it really does take a village, it helps to involve the community.
I think this is especially helpful for raising awareness and helping everyone in the community focus on inclusion. We might not always know how to best approach a situation but reaching out to the parent and starting that dialogue is a wonderful method to help bridge the understanding gap and connect with families.
The book also contains tips for special needs families, such as taking the pressure off themselves and their child and building relationships in the community. Special needs parent isolation can be a tremendous burden, and no one should parent in a bubble.
What activities are you doing with children to teach inclusivity?
Interview with Author Christine Bronstein:
What inspired you to publish Stewie BOOM! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Playdates?
It is a book I wish I had when my kids were younger. One of my children had some special needs and I know how isolating it can be. Too many families with children with ASD are struggling with isolation and bullying and these are two things that are actually solvable if we all work together to embrace these families and children into our communities.
Besides reading this book with our children, can you suggest activities to help educate young kids on how to interact with and include special needs families?
Special needs children and their parents want the same things as everyone else, to be a part of a warm and welcoming community. With that in mind, before welcoming a special-needs child it is very important to have conversations about differences with your children in a safe and open way. Talk about things that may be different about their new friend and also be sure to discuss what similarities they might have. During these conversations, you can also talk about the importance of being a good friend and the benefits of having a diverse social circle. Talking to your kids early about how to see the best in others and what it means to be a kind and accepting person is key to help them make healthy social bonds.
Creating a relationship with the parents of special needs children is as easy as simply asking questions. For example, what does their special needs child love to do? What shows or movies do they like? Do they like art, animals or water play? Would it be better to have a first play-date at your house or their house? Simply reaching out and stating that you would love to have your children play together and you want it to be successful is the best place to start to create inclusive social circles for your children.
How can parents encourage their kids to welcome special needs children?
Open up the conversation to talk about differences with your children in a safe and open way. Many of us were taught that differences-physical, mental, or emotional- were things we shouldn’t see and shouldn’t discuss, but those messages are not good for anyone. We are all different and we can find ways to embrace and celebrate our differences, but only if we are really able to openly discuss them. Parents can start by asking their children questions about how they feel when someone judges them? How do they feel when they are lonely or misunderstood? How does it feel to be left out? And how it feels to be a friend to someone in need? What it means to be kind?
Parents can also help their children find points of connection with special needs children in their neighborhood or schools by reaching out to the parents and also asking questions. Parents of special needs children are more likely to feel even more isolated, tired and stressed than parents of typical kids. Being understanding of those facts is important. And creating a relationship is as easy as simply starting a dialogue. For example, what does their special needs child love to do? What shows or movies do they like? Do they like art, animals or water play? How can you create a fun activity that both children might enjoy?
We all have a lot we can learn from special needs children and special needs parents- who often have incredible reserves of strength and perspective. By creating these relationships, parents model openness and acceptance and show children that it feels good to be a part of a broad community.
What can parents of special needs children do to help facilitate social interactions?
When opportunities arise, build relationships. Get to know your neighbors and other parents, even if it’s just saying hi when you take out the garbage. Let folks know about your amazing child and the things that would be great to know about him/her. People may not always understand, but the more information they know, the more open they can be.
How can parents of children without ASD help facilitate a successful playdate?
Don’t worry about what the kids ‘should be doing’ and focus on how they should be towards each other. For example, in our book, the kids end up playing video games, and that worked for everyone, maybe this playdate isn’t the time to limit screens. Also, with summer coming up, if it’s a hot summer day and your kids are playing in the sprinklers, often times (not always) kids with ASD love water play too. It is easy to ask the parents of special needs kids, “We’d love to have you over and we want it to be successful, what can we do?” Keep it short if need be. It is better to have 20 minutes of successful fun than 2 hours of stress.
Make yourself available during the playdate to help the children communicate and facilitate a relaxed environment. Making sure you keep the pace to that of the special needs child. Do not to take things personally if the ASD kiddo doesn’t respond the way you hoped. And remember to ask about any allergies or any things that could trigger discomfort for the special needs child.
Be open. Be aware. Be compassionate and understanding. Don’t judge. Don’t have too many expectations of what should happen and just be open to what unfolds.
Want more parenting advice? Check out this amazing Positive Parenting Solutions program!