Information for children about disabilities
Note to parents:
There are many types and grades of disabilities that are too complex for children so I tried to pick a few that wouldn’t alarm them yet give them the idea that it is alright to make friends with someone who may be very different from themselves.
There are a lot of children with disabilities of many kinds. A disability means that they have some problem and can’t do everything like other children. They may look different or be in a wheel-chair or might be blind, which means they can’t see, or deaf, which means they can’t hear. Some children are born with their disability and some get disabled from being sick and others from accidents. Most people are afraid of people that are different because they don’t understand or haven’t been informed or exposed to disabled people. They tend to stare or look away and pretend they don’t see them because they don’t understand or know how to react. These are all things that go through your mind. Usually the disabled person is very smart but maybe they can’t talk or move their body the way they want because the brain doesn’t tell their body what to do. In a child without disabilities the brain tells the body how to move and think but in a child with disabilities the brain doesn’t connect properly. So their body doesn’t work well. Usually these children want to be friends but don’t know how to express themselves. If you meet a person with a disability you should talk to them like you do to everyone else. They know that they are different from the rest of the children but still want to interact.
Take a deaf person for example: they are just like you but they can’t hear. You don’t yell at them because it doesn’t help. You must look at them when you speak and if you turn off your voice, whisper, it is easier for them to read your lips. Deaf people have a language of their own: it is called sign language. In sign language they use their hands to talk. It is very easy to learn and a fun project for the whole family. It can be like a secret language you use with your friends so no one else understands. Then if you do meet a deaf person you can talk to them.
If they are in a wheel-chair and can’t move their body or it moves by itself and they can’t control it, then don’t be afraid. Treat them like everyone else. You usually find that they are lots of fun and understand you but it takes some time for you to learn to understand them. You need to watch their face and eyes because they tell you a lot and soon you will know what they want. Because they know they are different they are very patient and try very hard to make friends. Having a dog to help them open doors and pick up things usually helps them meet people because the people are curious about the dog and approach the disabled person to find out more about the dog. It helps to break the ice.
These children usually go to special schools where there are other children with problems similar to their own but you may have a few in your school, or meet them at the park.
They don’t mind if you ask them questions about their disability and maybe their parents can help you get to know them and their problems a little better.
Some children have Down Syndrome. This is where their brain stops learning at a certain age; it is different for each child. They have a very distinctive look about their face so it is easy to pick them out. They are always loving and friendly but act like much younger children so you have to have patience with them. Some of them are extra-talented at things like chess or numbers or art but can’t tie their shoes for example. They don’t understand when a change is made in their life like moving to a new class with a new teacher or a friend moving away. They like things to stay the same. They get very excited about the simplest thing and playing with them makes them very happy. Sometimes they get a little rough because they don’t know how strong they are so you have to tell them nicely to be gentle.
Disabled children usually have to spend a lot of time in the hospital which makes it hard for them to stick to a routine and keep friends. Some have operations to try and fix the problem. The doctors and nurses are very nice and treat them well so they are not afraid.
Horseback riding under the supervision of a doctor or therapist helps them a lot because when you are in a wheelchair you don’t use your muscles and your insides need exercise to work properly. This is where the horse helps because it massages their insides and strengthens their muscles without them having to work. Usually they need someone to ride behind them to help hold up their head and body and do exercises. They like to go places that they can’t in their wheel-chair and, for once, to look down at everyone instead of up.
Most animals can help people but especially a person with a disability. Stroking a cat can help relax the muscles and ease pain. Also animals aren’t prejudiced so they don’t care what you look like or sound like. They also make great friends because you can tell them all your secrets and problems and they won’t tell anyone. It is good for all children to learn to take care of another being but especially for the disabled because someone always has to take care of them and it is a nice change to take care of something themselves.
You don’t have to be disabled to be different, your skin might be a different color than your school-mates or you might be fat or thin or short or tall for your age. You might be poor or rich, have one or two parents or maybe none and you are an orphan or foster child. These things all make it harder to mix in and make friends. So try to get to know some of these people. You may really like them or you may not but don’t let their appearance decide for you or you will miss out on some good friends.