Last night I saw a film that should be required viewing for everyone, everywhere.
It chronicles the lives of families whose children differ from their parents in some fundamental and immutable way, including those with Down syndrome, autism, and dwarfism. These families find love and joy in the aftermath of struggle and heartache. The film shows viewers the “normalcy” of those who live with differences; as all human beings do, they experience hopes, desires, disappointments, and triumphs.
Human beings categorize. We place people into groups - those familiar to us and those who differ - and often feel uncomfortable when we encounter someone who is different.
My work with young children includes helping them to expand their zone of comfort with others, so that they empathize with and include people who seem different. (This work doesn’t end with children, though. It’s the work of a lifetime, and I continue to face my own reactions to “otherness” as I strive to accept and respect all human beings. It’s not always easy).
To typically developing children, people with intellectual disabilities can seem different. When they meet someone with Down Syndrome, for example, they may feel curious or uncomfortable or scared, and may exclude them or speak and act in unkind ways.
For typically-abled children (and adults!), the appearance of a person with a physical disability can seem both fascinating and scary.
Our job is to normalize disability for our children so they accept people with physical differences as human beings who, like everyone, need love and friendship.
We also want our children to understand that while physical differences affect people’s lives in some ways, it simply means that they are differently abled. Like everyone else, most people with disabilities have the capacity to accomplish both everyday and extraordinary things.
Teaching sign language to hearing children brings many benefits, from significantly higher IQ’s to fewer tantrums and reduced parental stress.* Learning ASL also helps our kids gain empathy for non-hearing people.
Usually I post quick activities, ideas, and book suggestions. Today’s post is a little different. I came across an article in This Little Miggy Stayed Home (www.thislittlemiggy.com) that’s too good not to share.
Children’s literature lacks depictions of differently abled children. Very few books include pictures of blind kids, those who use wheelchairs, or those with other challenges. (For now, I'm focusing on physical differences - more on emotional and intellectual challenges later). Almost none have such children as main characters …