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BellaOnline's Children with Special Needs Editor

Inclusive Playgroups for Babies and Toddlers

Mothers of babies and toddlers diagnosed with developmental delays due to prematurity, or a developmental disability like Down syndrome, may find support from other mothers in the same infant stimulation or early intervention program or in playgroups set up by advocacy or support organizations. Their mainstream peers may sign up for Mommy and Me classes or parent education programs like PEPS, hoping to find information and support as they begin and continue their journey in motherhood. In some communities, mothers' groups are offered through public health departments, parks departments, community colleges with childcare facilities, or family support organizations. Some churches and cultural centers offer opportunities where mothers of very young children can meet and exchange stories while they hold their babies and their older children play together.

It is rare for such playgroups to reflect the true diversity of our communities, unless this is a specific goal of the organizers. Even in infant stimulations classes at early intervention centers, there may be a noticeable lack of cultural or racial diversity. Mothers of babies with Down syndrome, physical disabilities, or developmental delays may find it difficult to attend mainstream Mommy and Me events due to time constraints, and may not feel welcome unless they are specifically invited. In areas with strong support services for babies and toddlers, they may be diverted into disability-related resources where they never meet mothers of their children's mainstream peers. This is a loss for every neighborhood family.

It may not be a reasonable expectation that mothers of young babies or toddlers set up playgroups themselves, especially if their son or daughter has medical appointments or therapy sessions scheduled from their earliest days. But some moms have done just that. Most inclusive playgroups and parent education classes have been created by mothers of older children who wish the same opportunities had been available to their families, by advocates for individuals with disabilities, and by those who have grown up with a disability. Multicultural family groups and organizations have been very welcoming to mothers of newly diagnosed babies and children. It can be difficult for the mother of a baby or toddler with a disability to be the only one in a mainstream parent education class, whether there is other diversity among participants or when they integrate a monocultural group.

There is no guarantee that there are any kindred spirits among other mothers who resemble moms in your family, who live in homes like your family home, and who drive cars and wear clothes that are similar. Individuals are unique and wonderful, and it is much more likely that we will learn about one another looking through windows rather than via mirrors. We learn more about who our children happen to be when they are exploring rather than being displayed, and the same is true for us. Familiarity may cause unfounded trust in the clear thinking, safety and security of individuals and organizations where we believe our children will be safe, encouraged, and well-supervised. Trust should be earned; too many children have been exploited, abused, or victimized by those we have been taught to automatically trust.

The more diverse the friendship circle, the more likely we are to find someone who is not afraid to speak up to protect an individual child or family. The false sense of community generated by public relations strategies created to sell a product or therapy only mimics healthy relationships. If differences of opinion and perspective are not tolerated in an online circle or neighborhood group, profit and control may be the motivating factors rather than children's safety, health and opportunity. When our children's best interests are involved, we seek second opinions from medical professionals and therapists. This is no less important in playgroups or advocacy organizations.

New moms looking for playgroups with other mothers of babies or toddlers can use social media or local resources to set up a series of introductory meetings with childhood specialists, parent educators, or others with expertise in development. Although it is possible to meet wonderful people at events staged by businesses or other for-profit organizations, our children sometimes pay a higher price than the cost of the product when parents are sucked in by an 'anecdotal fallacy' that instigates a 'placebo effect' or pure blind faith in a product and its promoters. Playgroups and family events that reflect diversity of culture and ethnicity are much healthier places for children to grow up. Inclusive playgroups often lead to lifelong friendships for both parents and children, but their best feature is that they are open to the possibility of the moment.

Browse at your public library, local bookstore, or online retailer for books like: Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailer for books like:
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