Contributed by Nora Stasio
The word, “disabled,” can mean so many different things to different people. Some kids are burdened with a physical impairment; others have a mental handicap, which causes them to develop more slowly when compared to children without disabilities. Kids are kids, though, and they love to play. Whether you’re a caregiver, teacher, or parent of a disabled child, you’ve surely wanted to engage with that child in a fun way that takes into consideration his or her special needs.
Here are 3 suggestions that can help you make the most of your playtime together when working with disabled children.
Bring Some Books
Since she was very small, my sister Anna, who has Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, has been obsessed with books. If I had to guess why, I think it’s this: reading a book gives a disabled child the freedom to experience the world at their own pace. The bright pictures and large words are engaging and accessible. For many special needs children, the world is a busy, complicated maze, packed with more stimuli than they’re able to process at once. Getting lost in the pages of a book, they can drown out the rest of the world’s noise, look at what they want to see, and read the words they want to read.
If you’re going to be working with disabled children, I recommend having a pile of books on hand. Try and gauge what reading level suits them best (either ask a parent, or offer them a varied selection and see what they gravitate towards) and then try to provide a good number of the most suitable kind. You may not even need a whole book shelf’s worth. Many young children won’t mind, and in fact enjoy, reading the same books over and over again.
If you’re a teacher, it should be a no-brainer to incorporate such books into your lessons. And many of these children will absolutely love for you to read to them. Speak with bright expression, maybe do fun voices for each of the different characters, and see how they respond. If they don’t love it, then go for something more simple. Either way, they should enjoy having that personal time with you.
Plug In Some Electronics
I don’t think I need to tell you how popular electronic devices are these days. Practically ALL children adore them. Special needs children in particular crave simple, stimulating, interactive toys and games, and there are so many wonderful electronic ones. They enjoy being able to control the outcome of a situation by the push of a button, especially when the rest of the world can often seem out of control. They love to be able to make the world turn using only their fingertips.
Younger children will be drawn to toys or books with buttons that light up and make sounds. Companies such as Leap Frog offer electronic devices specifically designed to get small children excited about learning. Older children will likely be more interested in iPods, tablets, computers games, video games, and kid-friendly websites. All of these devices can be incorporated into a classroom setting. There are millions of apps for your smart device that are safe for kids, and many are also educational.
You may want to invest in a Wii (or Wii U) when playing or working with disabled children. This video game system has been especially popular with disabled children. Motion control games, such as Wii Sports, can be really engaging and empowering for those with limited mobility or impaired motor skills. There are a lot of great multiplayer games for the Wii, so you can play along with your child and whomever else wants to join in!
Show Some Respect
If you want to have a good time with a disabled child, there is a right and wrong way to approach the situation. Start out wrong, and the child may close up and turn from you. The key, if you ask me, is an attitude of respect.
Speak to them respectfully. Special needs children may not always respond to your questions as you’d expect them to, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand you. Even if they are “developmentally behind” other children their age, it’s not as if they’re little babies (unless, of course, they actually are) and they don’t necessarily need you talk down to them.
Disabled children need to feel that they are loved, important, and more than worthy of your time and focus. Keep in mind that actions speak louder than words. Telling the child directly, “You are special,” may feel awkward for them, and may even come across as patronizing. There is no need to draw attention to the disabilities that set them apart from the other children. Rather, you can show them you care by offering your time, your sincere kindness, patience, and attention. All the while, treat them the same as you would any other child. They will very much appreciate that.
If you’re looking for fun activities for Autistic children in particular, check out this blog post by contributed by Dawn Allcot: 5 Creative Activities for Autistic Children.