I’m a teacher in a school which has recently enrolled a few children with special needs. We want ‘normal’ children to interact with them but time and again, their attitude towards children with special needs is callous and insensitive. Even my own daughter recently called one of them “weird” even though I have been counselling her. How can we encourage children to practice inclusion and become empathetic to their special needs peers?
— Sheela Sharma, Mumbai
As a teacher it’s your responsibility to encourage ‘normal’ children to better understand peers with special needs. But first, you need to realise that honest questions asked by children are not rude. The special child is flapping, spinning, grunting, and doing what others of that age may not be doing. Let the ‘neuro-typical’ child ask her questions and avoid shaming a child for asking innocent questions. Instead use the opportunity to explain that everybody is born different and that children should be cooperative and helpful in whatever way they can.
Invite suggestions from your students on ways and means to include children with special needs. Children with disabilities want to make friends, be respected and included.
Moreover in the classroom reading list, include books about children with special needs, autism, and other challenges, and in class discussions highlight real-life examples of successful people with disabilities.
My seven-year old has a physical disability that prevents her from walking normally and holding pencils to write. Her IQ is good and we have been home-schooling her. The neighbourbood children play with her and she enjoys the company of friends. She is able to read and comprehend textbooks of children her age. However, I feel she is missing out on the world of school and friends but I also worry that other children will ridicule her because of her physical disability. Should I enroll her in a mainstream school, or is homeschooling the better option?
Impairments in motor functioning affect cognitive capabilities throughout one’s life span. If the IQ test was administered by a professional and the score is age appropriate, my advice is that you enroll the child in a mainstream school. However, I also strongly recommend that your daughter begin occupational and physical therapy (coordination training program), if she is not already doing it.
My five-year-old was born with Down syndrome. It’s not easy caring for a special child even though other family members also pitch in. I have been the doting, sacrificial mother but sometimes it become too much to handle. I have no life of my own. Any suggestions?
— Weary mom, Hyderabad
Field studies show that mothers of children with Down syndrome have a higher likelihood of being exhausted than other parents. I suggest you enroll in a coping programme where they offer psychological therapies to help you cope with the situation. Another alleviating factor is having an occupation. Mothers of Down Syndrome children benefit immensely from engaging in an occupation outside the home, such as a part-time job.
(Christabel Shirley Daniel is director of the Shiloah Therapy and Learning Centre, Bangalore)