Social Skills for Everyone

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Friendship, Infographics, Neurodiversity, Parenting

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[Each of the slides above has its own image description. Slideshow can be paused for ease of reading text. Full transcript at the end of this post, with a downloadable PDF.]

Issues of social inclusion are often persistent throughout a disabled person’s lifespan. Lack of inclusion can be a vicious cycle if non-disabled people are unfamiliar with how to include and interact with disabled people in their community:

1. disabled people are excluded, are segregated to disabled-only spaces, and/or withdraw from community life when they are socially rejected

2. non-disabled people continue to have social spaces and groups that have no disabled people in them, and they never become familiar or intimately connected with disabled people

3. disabled people continue to be rejected or excluded by non-disabled people who are unfamiliar with how to include us


How do we break this cycle? Traditionally, most of the onus has been on disabled people to assimilate and “normalize,” but this not only doesn’t work well, it’s unfair and ableist. Mainstream culture is beginning to realize that non-disabled need to do more to include us without trying to “fix” us, but it’s crucial to understand that acceptance is more than just a feeling. It’s a series of actions, and for most it will require some learning and listening to disabled people.

I have a dream that parents of non-disabled children will begin to talk to their kids about disability, as early and as often as possible. Just as with other issues of discrimination, it’s not enough to trust that your kids will be “nice” – even nice, lovely, kind hearted children may discriminate against or exclude disabled children if they simply do not know how to include them, and don’t understand people who are different from themselves in ways that a child can easily perceive.

This guide is a start. Please please share it with your kids and talk to them about what disability inclusion means. It’s not about pity or charity, it’s about equality.

Social Skills for Everyone PDF


Infographic cover has the title Social Skills for Everyone,” subtitle making friends and getting along.” Above the title are two human figures, one waving their arms with a speech bubble saying hi!” and the other with arms akimbo and a speech bubble containing ellipses. 
Page One.
Infographic text says: You might have noticed… there are all kinds of people in the world. no two are exactly alike. Not even twins! You probably won’t be friends with everyone you meet (and that’s ok!) but learning to get along with people makes life a little better for all of us.” One group of human figures is multicolored, with a green figure waving and saying hello!” A pair of orange figures who look the same as each other stand side by side, one saying I love drawing comic books” and the other saying I don’t draw. But I love Minecraft!” 
Page Two.
Infographic text says: There isn’t only one right way” to socialize… Just like there isn’t only one way to play! Everyone has their own style figure adds, and I think that’s cool!’ and learning someone else’s style is how you include someone new figure adds, and hey, remember… next time, the new person… could be you!’” Bottom image shows a green figure standing in foreground holding/touching their own head, with other figures in the background playing and one waving in greeting to the green new person.
Page Three.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone new… it’s nice to greet them and ever nicer to invite them to talk or play with you.” Image shows two human figures in foreground and two more playing in the background. A green figure waves and says to the orange figure, Hi, I’m Alex. Do you want to play tag with us?’ More text: but what if they don’t answer?” The green figure stands with a question mark thought bubble, while the orange figure touches/holds their own head and stands with a thought bubble containing ellipses.
Page Four.
Infographic text says: It might NOT mean they don’t want to play. Try this! Wait a few more seconds some people just need a little more time to answer questions or think of what to say.” Orange figure has a speech bubble that says …………okay!’ Move so they can see your face some people need to read your lips while you talk.” Two green heads in profile face each other, one with sound waves around mouth. Ask in a different way if they aren’t sure how to answer, using different words might help.” Green figure points to the side and says to orange figure, He’s it.” Let’s run!’ Or maybe just try again later. They might not be ready to join in yet, and that’s okay too!
Page Five.
Infographic text says: Some people do not speak at all (or not very much) but you can still include them! People who don’t speak communicate in other ways, like: Body Language! (orange figure in a variety of poses/gestures), using their voice in other ways (orange laughing face with speech bubble hahaha!’) or even using an app on a tablet! (orange figure holds a black tablet which has a dialog box saying okay. let’s play!’)
Page Six.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone who seems different, you might notice that they look, talk, or act differently than anyone else you’ve met before.” A green figure stands touching/holding their own head with a question mark thought bubble. It’s okay to ask polite questions.” A green figure asks, Does that hurt?’ to an orange figure with a small red mark on their face, who responds, No. It’s just a birthmark.’ More text: It’s good to celebrate our differences AND remember we aren’t all that different on the inside we all pretty much want the same things: to be accepted, to feel we belong, and to have fun doing things we enjoy.” At the bottom is a row of human figures: a green one with arms akimbo, orange one with heart-shaped birthmark, gray one waving arms, green one with headphones high-fiving a gray one with an orange wheelchair.

The Bethany Card


On Sunday November 5, 2011, a childhood friend of mine passed away from a sudden heart attack. Bethany Haveard was 34 and is survived by her husband and their five beautiful children. She was a wonderful, caring person who was always there with an encouraging word for her many friends.

I have created the Bethany Card to honor my friend and to help her family. Send this card to a friend or loved one just to let them know you care, are thinking of them, and love them. This is a hand drawn, printed card on cream cardstock, with a blank inside for your personal message; all proceeds will go to Bethany’s Memorial Fund to assist her husband and children. It will be available starting today on my E Custom Cards Order Now page and in my Etsy store.

Remembering Bethany


Yesterday I found out on Facebook that a friend of mine had died. I didn’t understand what I was reading at first; I had just read a post from Bethany early that morning about how one of her newborn twins was a great sleeper and the other up all night. Suddenly a mutual friend was writing what looked like a goodbye. I went to Bethany’s wall and people were writing “rest in peace.” It made no sense. Until it did. But how could it be true?

Bethany was only 34, a year older than me. She had a sudden heart attack due to spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a very rare event that is more common in postpartum women. She was a mother of five children, including twin girls who are two weeks old today. On Saturday she was fine. On Sunday she was gone.

Bethany was my first friend. My first best friend. We met when we were just toddlers – our parents later told us that she used to call me “the little girl with the yellow hair.” We were next door neighbors all our lives until we moved out of our parents’ homes. In the picture above we are standing in my backyard and behind us you can see her house.

In the early days, we were inseparable. Every day we were at each other’s house or playing outside together. We played House a lot, and I was always the Big Sister while Bethany was Mommy to her baby dolls, because she was a year older, but also because she just was the mommy. She was one of those little girls who was always nurturing and maternal, born to be a real mommy some day.

I remember one time we had to spend the day apart for some reason. We agreed that at a certain time we would sit by our bedroom windows, which faced each other, and play Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For,” which we had each taped off the radio. I remember gazing out at her house, so sad to be separated for a whole entire day.

I still have that song on tape, along with the theme to Punky Brewster and some tape recorded conversations between us when we about 5 and 6 years old. There is one part where she asks what’s on my finger and I tell her it’s a cardboard ring, and she cracks up laughing. She had the BEST laugh.

When we got a little older, we made other friends at school, but we were still great friends, still together all the time. We made up dance routines to every one of the songs on the soundtrack to Stand By Me. We had sleepovers.

Then one day our parents had some sort of falling out, and said we were not to play together anymore, and we obeyed. It was hard to lose my first best friend, but by then we had lots of other friends, and we moved on, and eventually grew apart, as kids do.

During senior year of high school Bethany passed me a note on the bus. It said that she still cared about me and wished that we were still friends, and she was inviting me to come to her house and spend time with her sometime, if I wanted to. I did want to, and I did go hang out. But it was awkward, because so much time had passed we didn’t really know each other anymore, and at that age we were different… I was a rebel without a clue, but Bethany was the same as she ever was – sweet, open, loving.

A few years ago Bethany reached out to me again, finding me on Facebook and reigniting our friendship. Right around that time, she and I and some mutual friends from way back in school were all pregnant, but I lost that baby. Later, Bethany was pregnant again, and lost her baby around the beginning of her second trimester – she named that baby Alex. I spoke with her on the phone then, wishing to lend her support in any way I could, answering questions, telling her where to find the support group that had helped me.

Friendship in the age of Facebook is a funny thing – and so is loss. I haven’t seen Bethany in many years and chances are I never would have seen her again, since she had settled in Florida and I in Nebraska. It’s strange though, because there is so much intimacy to an online friendship when you are part of their everyday. Building that on top of our shared history, I felt that we were connected again. And yet I know that that sadness I feel over losing her – so suddenly, it doesn’t seem real – can’t compare to the grief that the people who really knew and loved her, held and hugged her, laughed and cried with her, must be feeling.

This is the thing that seems so unfathomable about losing Bethany – she was such a beautiful person. If you met her as an adult and you were kind of a cynical person like me, you might think, no one can really be that nice. But I knew her from the beginning, and I knew she was genuine. She was always that way. She cared deeply, she loved everyone, she reached out to people, she was kind. I keep looking at the messages people are posting on her Facebook wall now, but I can only stand to read a few before it’s too much. It is just so unfair that her five children not only lost their mother, they lost an amazing mother, one who loved them with such an abundance of joy that it seems impossible she could have been taken away from them, and from the world.

I’m still not sure I really quite believe it. But I will remember her every day.