Have you ever had a parent tell you they didn’t want you to meet their child until after they had the chance to talk to you about him first? When this happened to me, I had no idea what to expect. So many things running through my mind. Who is this kid? How bad is he going to be? This must be serious.
During our pre-introduction to the child meeting, the parents surprised me by saying, “Our son is so cute, no one can say no to him. Before you meet him, we want to make sure you know that Ethan needs to be told no and you have to enforce rules with him, just like all the other kids. Don’t let him manipulate you with his cuteness.”
I laughed at them. What?! Who is this kid and how cute could he possibly be?
Then I met Ethan.
Ethan is developmentally delayed. When I first met him, he was almost entirely nonverbal. I had the pleasure of watching him grow, learn and flourish through the years of his tenure at the Club. His parents give the warm, friendly, accepting environment of the Club credit for much of his social and verbal progress.
But this post isn’t about what the Club did for Ethan, it’s about what Ethan did for the Club.
Ethan is half the size of other kids his age and has a perma-smile on his face. His sugary sweet smile and personality make him absolutely irresistible. This boy really IS impossible to say no to and enforce rules with. He’s just too cute and sweet!
Does he have challenges that make it hard to work with him sometimes? Yes! However, his presence in our Club teaches all of us- youth and adult- how to accept, embrace and support ALL people, regardless of ability. Each day you see kids fighting over who gets to help Ethan with his art project, who gets to help Ethan ask for a snack, who gets to help Ethan pull his book bag out of his cubby, and on and on. Ethan is so darn loveable, people want to help him, regardless of the inconvenience.
A few tips for welcoming those with differing abilities to the Club:
- Teach skills youth need to participate in activities, to communicate, and to positively interact with peers;
- Implement individualized strategies, as needed;
- Provide many opportunities to practice new skills with support.
Ethan has single-handedly converted our Club into a much more inclusive place. Because of Ethan, any child that doesn’t fit the “typical” mold is welcomed and included by all at our Club. Ethan has taught us the joy of asking, “How can I help?” so that everyone benefits from everyone participating.
By Guest Contributor
Director, Sports, Fitness & Recreation Program, Training & Youth Development Services
Boys & Girls Clubs of America