TIES Belonging Resources


Invited section of the belonging wheel highlighted

There is something quite powerful about being picked by someone else. It is encouraging to know that others want to be in your midst; that your company is desired or even needed. To be invited is to have your presence or participation sought out by another person. Being invited involves being consideredand then pursued—by others. Invitations should abound for students with significant cognitive disabilities at your school. This might involve being asked by peers to sit together at lunch, to join in games at recess, to collaborate on a project, to come to a birthday party, or to attend a sleepover. Likewise, students with disabilities should be invited by teachers to join extracurricular clubs, to attend inclusive field trips, to contribute on service projects, and to take part in other school activities. Each of these ordinary gestures communicates to students that their presence matters. Yet such invitations are far too rare for some students. Whether inadvertent or intentional, students with significant cognitive disabilities are often left out of the experiences that so many other students in their school enjoy. Belonging begins when these powerful invitations become an everyday occurrence—from peers, from teachers, and from others at the school.

What Does It Look Like?

  • Knowing Elena loves animals and the outdoors, Ms. Johnson made sure to invite her to the kick-off meeting of the school’s 4-H club. She assured Elena and her parents that all of the needed support and assistance would be in place.
  • The principal personally asked Sam to be one of three student delegates to represent Beech Middle School at the upcoming School Board meeting. Sam programmed his presentation into his communication device and proudly donned his school colors as he shared what he was learning in his civics class.
  • Lunch was the absolute best part of Gigi’s school day. She was always asked to join a group of girls from her science class. She loved sitting at the “cool” table, laughing and talking with her friends.
  • The abundance of names on Fiona’s birthday invitation list certainly did not surprise her mom. As she helped Fiona stuff envelopes with invitations, they reminisced on the numerous parties Fiona had herself attended since the start of the school year. Fiona was excited to finally reciprocate with a party of her own.

What Can You Do?

  • Encourage peers to reach out to fellow students in their classes or school who may feel excluded.
  • Create opportunities for students with and without disabilities to meet and get to know one another. Invitations are more likely to come when students already know one another.
  • Ask general educators to actively encourage the involvement of students with significant cognitive disabilities in the programs, clubs, and activities they lead outside of the classroom.
  • Make sure that all school events are announced and shared in ways that will reach students with significant cognitive disabilities and their families. Follow-up with personal invitations to individuals who do not respond.
  • Find creative ways of connecting the parents of students with and without disabilities. Parents are the ones who facilitate play dates and other out-of-school get-togethers among younger children.

Questions for Reflection

  • Think back to your own elementary or middle school experiences. What did it feel like when you were invited to another child’s party or social activity? What did it feel like when that invitation never came? How did each of these experiences impact your sense of belonging?
  • Notice whether students with significant cognitive disabilities are participating in the same breadth of class and school activities as other students. To what extent is the presence or absence of invitations impacting this involvement?
  • Ask fellow teachers what (if anything) makes them hesitant or resistant to having students with significant cognitive disabilities in their classes or programs. What steps could you take to address or alleviate those concerns?
  • Develop a list of activities, clubs, or programs at your school. What are some ways you could share these opportunities with students with disabilities and their families in ways that would encourage greater involvement?


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TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota (# H326Y170004) and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.

See our full attribution statement in 'Creating communities of belonging for students with significant cognitive disabilities'