Some people don't realize it, but prior to the early 1980s most disabled people were segregated from the rest of the world. Living much of their lives in institutions, hospitals and group homes, barely socialized or seen in the public.
By the mid to late 80s, there was a shift in mentality. Kids with special needs were integrated into their communities and the rest of the world. I was lucky enough to be a part of the first large wave of kids who were integrated at a young age.
Before I started kindergarten I went to a nursery school that was specifically for kids with physical disabilities. When it came time for me to start junior kindergarten my parents (with the help of therapists) made the decision to enroll me in the same school my brother and sisters went to across the street from our house. Looking back on it now, the decision my parents made to put me into a so-called "normal" school shaped my entire life going forward.
Like any kid my age, I went to school every day, played with my friends, and from time to time I even went to my friends' houses and attended their birthday parties. For the most part, my childhood was very normal and happy. For the most part, other than being a shy kid I don't feel like I suffered socially. One of reasons why I feel like I was well-adjusted was because my classmates didn't care that I was in a wheelchair. They just looked at me as another classmate and if someone had a question about why I couldn't walk, all I would say in my 5 year-old way was "because I was born that way" and that was it. I also had parents who encouraged me to be social with my classmates. Of course there were points growing up where I'd encounter the occasional butthead who would make fun of me for being in a wheelchair, but it was rare and my way of coping with it was to laugh it off.
Since I grew up mostly being around able-bodied people, my interactions with other special needs kids were limited, especially at the first elementary school I attended, where I was the only kid in a wheelchair. By mid-way through the fourth grade I was transferred to a new school that had two or three kids in wheelchairs, but I was still the only kid in my class with a physical disability.
By the time I was in high school and later college, I had more friends with disabilities than I ever had before. Now, as an adult I'm capable of socializing with anyone (disabled or not) as long as we have something in common and I don't feel like this would have been the case if I wasn't integrated at such a young age.
I'm grateful to my parents for integrating me and that I grew up in a time and place where that was possible.