School is beginning after a nice, relaxing summer break. I hope you had fun with your children and they are prepared to go back to school. As you sit down to discuss manners, school etiquette and homework policies, please add to your conversations disability awareness and being open to friendships with children who have disabilities. I am asking you to do this as a special education teacher and as someone who has cerebral palsy.
Parents often prepare their child about how to handle strangers, use manners, respond to bullies and be a good student. But children are rarely taught how to be open to disabilities and that it’s OK to become friends with someone no matter who they are or the disability they might have.
You might believe that your child would never leave another child out or tease someone who is different. I’m here to tell you that your child isn’t bad for doing these things. Children just are not prepared to deal with the peer pressure to make fun of someone different. They might believe that you would think less of them if they become friends with someone who is different. Communication is so important.
Children learn by example, and they are always observing what their parents are doing. Too often, as I am out and about, parents yell at their child for being too close to my wheelchair or act as if I’m going to run over their child. (No one in a wheelchair has purposely set out to run down children.) These behaviors teach children that people who use wheelchairs are to be left alone and avoided. Basically, it says that people who use wheelchairs are scary. Please stop doing this. If your children are in our way, we will go around them, like anyone else. Let them talk and ask questions of people with disabilities. Show them that it’s completely normal to interact with someone who has a disability.
Discussing disabilities with your children is crucial. Inclusion is more and more prevalent in classrooms, so the chances that your children will encounter someone who has a disability is high. They also might have a teacher with a disability. They need to know that people who have disabilities are not special. They are the same as anyone else, but they have a disability to which they adapt. You need to tell them that it’s OK to be friends with them, but never OK to tease, bully or leave them out of a group.
When having a birthday party, please do not forget to invite everyone, including the child who has a disability. My feelings were hurt often when my peers would happily talk about birthday parties they had attended over the weekend — parties to which I was never invited. This hurt my feelings very much because I knew it was because I had cerebral palsy.
I cannot stress enough how important communication is with your children about accepting differences. It is never OK to tease someone for things that they cannot control, such as walking, speaking, moving and even learning. It is not OK to work against someone because they’re different. If others are teasing someone, don’t join in. Instead, stick up for the ones being teased. Treat others with respect and treat others how you want to be treated.
Thank you for reading, and I wish every student a happy school year.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.