Teaching Kids Ability & Disability Awareness3
Parents and teachers can model acceptance and understanding through education and sensitivity.
One in five Americans has a disability of one form or another. “SPECIAL NEEDS” is a broad umbrella underneath which a large array of diagnoses can be wedged. There are many children in our schools with special needs we are not even aware of and others that stand out because of behaviors or physical limitations. Children with special needs may have mild learning disabilities or profound intellectual disabilities; food allergies or terminal illness; developmental delays that catch up quickly or remain entrenched; occasional panic attacks or serious psychiatric problems.
Many children are born with their disability and do not deserve the negative attention and rude comments they often receive from their peers. Parents and teachers can model acceptance and understanding through education and sensitivity. When we teach children about disabilities and differences at a young age, our hope is that they will be accepting of others with special needs in school and in their community.
Our children need to learn “People First Language” which means putting the person before the disability. For example, we would not say “disabled child”, but rather a “child with a disability”. Using people first language helps others to remember that people are first and their special needs are secondary. Words such as “lame, retarded, or psycho” are not respectful, even if used when just “joking around.”
There is a national campaign to eliminate the use of the R Word [retard] from the English language. The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory.
What is age appropriate? Parents of 3 to 5 year olds may teach that everyone is different, but we all have similarities as well. We may teach the young child that everyone has something special about us. Five to 7 year olds tend to ask more disability-specific questions. They may benefit from story books about children with special needs. Children who are older may benefit from learning how they can help children be included and participate in activities. Friendship and respect usually come naturally, but sometimes need to be taught.
[AUTHOR: Ability awareness resources, books and activities are available to help parents, teachers, and caregivers. Alpha Resource Center of Santa Barbara can provide support, information, and tools to help promote and celebrate ability awareness. www.alphasb.org.]