When we are blessed with children of normal physical and mental health, we may perhaps empathize with children who are not of the best build, but most probably we might be lacking the tendency to include the children in our families, play groups or societies. I don’t complain. It can be natural. The lack of awareness is most often the problem in Indian societal set-ups.
From 1st to 30th April, I will be writing one post a day on The Things that really matter to Children. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the complete list of posts in the series.
Y for Yelp!: Do we hear what matters to Children with Health Impairments & Disabilities?
In the 1980’s, if a child in a class had a learning disability, I bet it would not have been identified. The teachers would shame the child in front of the class and the child would be labelled a weak student for the rest of his/ her school life. He/she would be sent to back-to-back tuitions for improving the marks in the examinations. Neither was then awareness in mental health nor was the education system interested to aid the development of children with special needs. As a matter of fact, people of the 80’s generation would not have identified the fact that they suffered from dyslexia as a child until the movie Taare Zameen Par was released.
Let us let the past to rest. But, today with enough research and awareness around, we, the parents, teachers and the communities carry a greater responsibility to support children with special needs.
To help you understand what happens to some of the special children, here is an example of children on a spectrum disorder.
Children on autistic spectrum can appear visually different to us in their behaviour. They can be very very sensitive to loud noises and crowds. For example, they may not cope well in a birthday party where there are balloon breaking sounds and too much of excitement around. They may cry in a different tone and behave scared. It is difficult for a parent to present themselves calm or look after their child in such situations. This can happen anywhere – airports, railway stations, hospitals, anywhere.
Some children can show repetitive behaviour like asking the same questions without understanding that it has been answered several times. They might speak incoherently with respect to what is being discussed around. We might not identify the depth of their problems in one glance and the parents might not want to disclose that their child is on spectrum for the fear of being stamped and judged.
Some children may be very shy and might not want to leave their mom’s hands, while some may be extremely social, laughing more than usual or making loud laughter at inappropriate situations.
And there are many other common behavioural characteristics of children who need special care.
How do we all in general respond to such behaviour from the children?
We sense they are different. We label them as ‘weird’. We judge that they are not fit for normal social gatherings. We stare at them with irritation. Some may go to the extent of making fun and bullying, making the situation worse. Some may blame the mother for raising the child that way, and pour our advices on good parenting.
Instead, how can we help and support children and their families of special needs?
If you ask these children and their parents what kind of support they expect the most from the community around, they will say inclusion. It’s not our sympathy that matters to them. If you never thought in the lines of these children before, here are a few points all of us must be aware of.
The common kinds of deficits or disabilities in children include cerebral palsy, Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), learning disabilities and physical disabilities. Each comes with its own set of symptoms and levels of severity. You may want to browse each of them to know what exactly they mean. I insist you to learn about the behavioral characteristics of children with different abilities (even when your children need not be one), because when you have that awareness, you will develop a sense of understanding why a child behaves in a certain way.
Before I begin to list out some points, let me remind you, the bottom line of this post is to develop a natural empathy for the children and their families. If this is a miss, nothing else said below can make meaning to you.
- Can we stop labelling them? Their behaviour might seem visually weird, but they have an innocent heart like any other child in this world.
- Can we stop staring at them? If you realize how uncomfortable it can be to the family.
- Can we understand that they can be sensitive to loud noises? If possible, can we avoid creating one around them?
- If we have invited them to a birthday party and they don’t turn to the party, can we understand why they might not have preferred to come even though they might not have chosen to explain us the reason?
- If a special needs child is nearing our children, can we stop protecting our children from them? Instead, can we allow our children to interact with them? If our children run to us scared or complaining of them, can we educate our children to include children of all abilities in their plays?
- If you happen to witness a group of children bullying or throwing pranks on any special needs child, can we intervene to set things right?
- If there is a child in our own community, can we start to make them feel better? Yes, like in the movie Anjali if it reminds you.
- If there is a child with learning disability in your child’s classroom, can you talk to your child about including him or her instead of trying to separate your child away?
- Can we demonstrate to them why bullying such kids (well any kids for that matter) is not right?
- Can we read books to our children about inclusiveness? Here are some starters:
This is not an exhaustive list. When you feel the real care for children of all abilities, you will know what to do for them and how to raise your children to include them. It’s our choice, what we want to project to the children with special needs and what we want our children to know about their care. Let’s do what is right!
If you have a on experience to share here or if you are raising a special needs child and want to tell the world more about inclusiveness, please write in the comments below. Your words can have a meaningful impact on several minds here.
List of posts in the Series