I remember meeting a young man who was born blind.
He was such a remarkable young man that knew everyone by name after meeting him or her for the first.
It was my first time of interacting closely with someone with an obvious disability. As we got talking, he shared with me how his parents treated him like every other child in the family with no special treatment. He went to public schools from secondary to university. As we were in class together, he never shirked from doing his class work and assignments. At that, time even had a high paying job at a multinational organisation in Lagos.
Initially, when I started relating with him I felt pity for him that this intelligent man would not be able to see but that pity quickly evaporated as I saw him do things for himself some of which sighted people like me struggled with, he did with ease. Then I wondered how he coped when he was a child…
Disability may be a challenge but it is not a death verdict. Children with special needs are often treated unkindly. Other kids jest and make fun of their disability and the best of kids pity them. Special needs children do not need unkindness, jests and even pity what they need is to be treated well like every other child.
Here are principles to guide you when you are relating with special needs children and even adults;
- Think highly of them: your thoughts about people affects how you relate to them. If you assume the best of actions of a special need child, they rise to meet with that positive flow. Know that they are trying their best at that time.
- Be patient with them: The reality is that a child with a disability may not be able to do as much as you do. Be understanding of their struggles and don’t make them feel bad about it. You can practically show this by giving them time to process instructions, direction and not assuming they are just being difficult.
- Be sincere with them: If you don’t understand something they are saying act them to explain, say it slowly or even write it out. Don’t assume, ask questions for clarity as physical disability is not the same as intellectual disability
- Seek consent before helping: A special needs person may not necessarily need help in certain areas that you may think they do. Ask before helping out, as the special needs child may have a preference for how the help should be rendered.
- Do not fear them: special needs children live the reality of having one form of disability or the other. You do not need to be afraid of them. Treat their challenges as natural as having you would treat someone with malaria, I’m sure you don’t run from them right?
- Do not talk down at them: When you interact with special needs people don’t treat them like babies. Talk to them as you would to another child of their age. Let your tone and body language convey respect.
- Do not disclose unobvious disability: If the disability is not obvious, you should not disclose it without permission from the persons concerned.
- Encourage interactions with other kids: Special needs kids need to be encouraged to interact with both disabled and non-disabled kids to develop a healthy human relationship. However, it is better not to interact with non-disabled kids who ill-treat and bully.
- Teach them to be independent: Special needs kids can do so much than people want to give them credit. Allow that child to practice simple skills, like bathing, self-cleaning, dressing up, choosing what to wear, and other advanced skills. It may be difficult at first but with encouragement, this independence skill will be developed and enhanced.
- Play up their strength: Special needs kids have their limitations always staring them in the face on daily basis yet they have strength, skills, and talent that should be given due recognition. Recognize their strengths and encourage them.
- Give them a chance to give: It is natural to think that special needs kids only need to be given care, attention, encouragement but do you know that they can support you in various ways. They can help in the home to the best of their abilities, give a hug, say encouraging words, and do chores and many other things.
Children with special needs are diamonds in the rough. Read up on the lives of Hellen Keller, Nick Vujicic, Asuquo Cobham, Stevie Wonder, and see how there is the ability in disability.