Disability: Abilities of a different kind
All children are very special little people basking in the warm glow of love bestowed on them by family and friends and even, when they are looking or behaving particularly well, by their teachers too!
Most children are fairly self-confident when with people they know and trust, and perhaps just a little shy with new acquaintances. This initial shyness disappears quite quickly when they realise that the newly-introduced person doesn’t represent any kind of threat and can, after getting to know them, turn out to be a wonderful friend.
There are, however, other children who are always extremely wary of meeting new people, especially children of their own age group, due to the fact that they have certain problems which make them feel very different from those around them. Such children are just the same as others on the inside where it counts but, because they look or act differently than those
around them, they tend to be extra sensitive and so are easily hurt.
Some children and adults have certain disabilities, such as difficulty in hearing or seeing, walking properly or a learning disability. It is not something to be pointed out and made much of — it is just something for others to accept and understand.
Such people have often been given other gifts, to compensate for any physical or mental disabilities they may have and it can take time, even years, for their full potential and abilities to be recognised by a society which considers itself to be ‘normal’, when nobody knows for sure what ‘normal’ actually is!
One of the biggest heartbreaks a person with a disability faces is when others stare at them for no other reason than that they happen to be different from those around them. And, as very few people actually enjoy being stared at, they often find the experience upsetting in the extreme.
Life can be problematic enough without people staring or whispering about someone else while they are in the same room, same class or in the same playground. The one on whom all this unwarranted attention is focussed inevitably knows exactly what is going on and is really hurt deep down inside even though they might not show it.
A child with a disability is sometimes left out of games and fun activities that others enjoy when, in some cases, they are perfectly capable of joining in. And, if they can’t play one kind of game there is usually an alternative game which they can and, if it happens to be some kind of competitive sport, they can win and surprise everyone around them into paying them the kind of positive attention they so rightly deserve.
Deciding to exclude them from games and sports is a thoughtlessly selfish thing to do when all it takes is a little consideration to make them a part of the gang. And, if there are doubts about this, all one needs to do is think about Paralympics in which people with a disability from all over the world compete to achieve stunning successes that people without such a disability can rarely dream of.
Learning how to cope in the big wide world is a major achievement for children with obvious problems and, aside from being stared at and otherwise ridiculed, a major hurdle to overcome is that of people who presume that they cannot do anything for themselves so must be assisted in performing even the simplest task. This assistance may be necessary at times, even welcomed, but should not be loudly forced on someone who doesn’t want it yet, and possibly finds it difficult to make this known. It is satisfying to help someone when they obviously need it, but not a good thing to insist on if they can manage perfectly well on their own.
Knowing when and how to assist a child or any person with a disability to do a task is an art in itself. Announcing to everyone around that someone needs help usually isn’t the correct way to go about it. It is much better to quietly, without making any kind of fuss, just help with whatever needs doing and then let things be, unless the child indicates otherwise. Everyone has pride and wants to be capable of doing things for themselves, if and when they can, and such people are no different.
Being over-effusive in acknowledging that a disabled child has succeeded in completing a task is another mistake often made by other children and also by adults. Offering encouragement is perfectly acceptable if the child is learning how to do something new but going on and on about it afterwards can be pretty embarrassing for all concerned.
Just imagine how awful you would feel yourself if, for instance, years after you leant how to tie your own shoe laces your family and friends kept on saying, “Well done”.
If there is a child with a disability that you know, perhaps a sibling/relative, a neighbour or a classmate, some of the most important things to do include acknowledging them as an individual person in their own right and accepting them as such.
Remember to treat them on equal terms as much as you possibly can whilst still making any necessary allowances for perceived problems; to quietly and calmly help when and if help is required; to respond to their likes, dislikes, tempers and tantrums just as you would with anyone else; to treat them the same as you do the rest of your family and friends and, above all, to remember that whatever their disability happens to be, it is not their fault. They have feelings too and get hurt far more easily than we do.