Most educators agree that inclusivity is important. Most kids have heard the mantra “You should be nice to everyone,” though not all have absorbed the intent. Children typically listen to the rehearsed speeches given by teachers and administrators about making sure that everyone feels welcome and accepted. Students can tell when a teacher is reading from a script, and it makes their message appear impersonal and insincere. Unfortunately, many of the measures taken to ensure everyone feels included do not succeed. Somehow, the way we talk to kids about special needs has to change. Here are some suggestions to make communication between students and teachers more effective:

  • Utilize Many Perspectives: Many schools attempt to address the subject of special needs without even consulting the students that have personal experience. If possible, administrators should communicate with students who have differences, and those with a personal connection to someone with special needs, to learn if they have anything they wish to contribute or say to the student body. Presenting students with familiar faces will make the issues seem more real and immediate as well as making the messages more grounded and relatable.
  • Attempt Empathy Activities: Many children cannot understand what those with special needs have to deal with on a daily basis. This lack of experience makes it easier to laugh at those with special needs. Follow the link here for some ideas for empathy exercises.
  • Avoid Mass Assemblies: Sensitive subjects, such as how children should speak to people with special needs, should be broached in a close quartered environment. Keeping audiences small ensures that the message is more direct and personal for everyone involved. Also, it removes the possibility that people sit in the back of audiences and make jokes instead of paying attention.
  • Suggest Eye Contact: Eye contact and smiling is a straightforward way to make everyone feel welcome, especially those with special needs. Acknowledging the presence of people with differences in any situation or environment, makes them feel welcome and accepted. However, also make sure to communicate that it is not necessary to force immediate friendships. Simple, polite gestures make people with special needs feel they belong.
  • Encourage Polite Questions: Many parents and teachers discourage children from directing their questions towards people with special needs, fearing the inquisitive nature of their queries will be offensive and rude. Unfortunately, this lack of communication is often interpreted as disdain by people with special needs. Polite questions are an excellent way to overcome barriers between typical kids and those with special needs. Education and immersion are the best way to help children understand that people with special needs are not that different from themselves.

It is my hope that these suggestions help teachers communicate with their students and ensure everyone, no matter their abilities or disabilities, feels welcome and accepted.


Kathleen_MBAKathleen Gaffney is a rising senior at Palo Alto High School. She has a younger sister, Daisy, with severe special needs. Kathleen was an intern for the Magical Bridge Foundation during the summer of 2016.




About Magical Bridge Foundation


Magical Bridge Foundation furthers the promise of Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground by advocating for and creating inclusive and innovative playgrounds in other communities. Led by Magical Bridge Playground founder and visionary, Olenka Villarreal, and co-founders Jill Asher and Kris Loew, the formation of Magical Bridge Foundation is responding to the global need for innovative and inclusive parks. We are pouring our seven years of research, fundraising, development, design, and construction strategies into building Magical Bridge Playgrounds across the nation.

If you are interested in bringing a Magical Bridge Playground to your community, kindly contact Olenka Villarreal at or Jill Asher at