Tips to Make Your Child Aware of His or Her Friend/Classmate with Disability

In a modern school setting, its not too hard to find a classroom with one or more students with Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD or other forms of learning or physical disability. It goes a long way to educate and make other kids aware of their peers with special needs, albeit in a friendly and respectable manner.

Teaching your child about a friend with disability
In current settings, it is becoming increasingly important to Teach your child about a friend with disability

If the peers naturally don’t appear to be congnizant of a mate with certain special needs, they must be made aware of certain facts and un-realisms. Schools across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are heavily investing in disseminating the seeds of awareness among classrooms to ensure that students who are specially abled are treated respectfully by their peers.

Disabilities: A recap

Children can be born disabled or become disabled from an accident or illness. By disabilities, we cover a wide range. Obvious disability (e.g. physical disabilities that are outright visible), like wheelchair (for immobility) or cane (for visual impairment) could be easily spotted and addressed. The real problem is posed by other disabilities that are more hidden by nature. These are the realms of learning, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.

Dealing with disabilities

The most preferred way would be a direct approach rather than avoidance! Children, being less inhibited, are oftentimes smarter than their parents when it comes to approaching disability.

Previous exposures to disabilities make us (i.e. grownups) worry about appearing intrusive or insensitive, but children usually lack these emotional layers. A smile or friendly “Hello!” comes easier to them, which most parents of children with disabilities would gladly welcome.

As a parent of a typically developing child, there are quite a few things you can do to help your child socialize with a specially abled peer. Many children’s activities can continue without verbal exchanges. Playing board games, arts and crafts – even a few sports activities etc. are such examples or avtivities not needing intense verbal exchanges.

Play dates with a child having a disability should be encouraged by parents on both sides. Or, invite the child to your kid’s birthday party. Call the parents and simply notify them beforehand. Share any concerns that you may have to facilitate a successful play date or outing. Learn the basic communication modes to further understand a child’s experiences. It may also help dispel any questions you or your child may have.

How schools provide for special needs?

Though most specially abled children attend the public schooling system, disabilities often require extra support and/or accommodations. Private, specialised schools work better for children with Autism, but it’s not absolutely critical given that affordability becomes a concern for most average earning parents.

A classmate with special needs is often more noticeable more than other typically developing children. Many public schools have provisions for special teachers to work one-on-one with the student who requires it. Sometimes, particular students are given individualized attention, for prolonged spans. A teacher may also wear a microphone if there’s a student with hearing impairment. It makes the student hear him/her better.

What Other parents MUST Understand

A classmate with a disability is more common than you think, so your child must learn about and be friendly to children with disabilities. There’s a fair chance there could be one in your child’s classroom, so you must guide him/her to encourage friendship and initiate conversation (wherever applicable).

You may start with these few basic ideas and work out your own as you get easy with these.

  • No 2 people are same in this world.
  • Differences always exist. Some are merely more noticeable.
  • Disability is one of the characteristics of a person. He/she will have other facets too; favours and disfavours, strengths and other challenges – if any – faced. It doesn’t mean they won’t have any friends, or not given respect and excluded from the mainstream.
  • Disability is NOT contagious.
  • Physical disability isn’t related to cognitive disability.
  • Disability is subjective. Children with disabilities are slower than an average, normal child and take longer to complete a job, sometimes even with assistance and/or adaptive equipment. But the child may be equally strong (if not above average) in other areas
  • Clear and respectful language must be used when talking about someone with disabilities. Younger children find simple explanations easy to remember. Wheelchairs, therefore; are apparatus that work as legs.
  • Name calling is strictly prohibited, even as a joke. Anything that hurts people’s feelings is unacceptable. The same applies for any for of bullying (Read: Autism and Bullying)
  • Many audio-visuals positively portray children with disabilities. Sesame Street, for example, run their episodes with specially abled children routinely incorporated into their schedule. Get to watching!
  • Disability-awareness programs are plenty in schools! Find out if it’s offered where your child goes to. Engaging activities to guest speakers – its roaring fun throughout.

A case study of Jane

Jane (real name hidden) is 8 years old; a really sweet kid who loves attention. She is affected with cerebral palsy; is non-verbal and non-ambulatory. Still, she goes to the public school and spends time both in and out of her third grade classroom (with a one to one aide); to her friends’ house, does horseback riding and plays board games.

Her modes of communication are the augmentative communication boards while for transportation, it’s a wheelchair. As per Jane’s mother:

She finds other kids great. They are very direct, which is good. They like her too and interactions are spontaneous.

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