March is National Disability Awareness Month! Have you ever heard the word disability? Do you know what it means? A disability is any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities and sometimes interact with the world around them.
No one is going to be exactly the same as someone else. Our friends and family are not exactly the same as we are. And it is very important to pay attention to differences that we have so we can be a good helper and friend.
Some disabilities we can see with our eyes. Like a friend in a wheelchair. Or someone walking with a mobility cane if they are blind (can't see). There are also some disabilities we can't see with our eyes. Things like autism (the way someone's brain develops differently). We should never think that we always know everything about a person just by looking at them.
A few examples of disabilities include the ones below, but there are also a lot more:
Mobility: someone who might need a wheelchair, has a hard time moving, or can't move on their own)
Deaf/Hard of Hearing: someone who might not be able to hear you well, or at all
Low Vision/Blindness: someone who has a hard time seeing, or might not be able to see at all
Communication: someone who can't talk to you in the same way that other people are. Sometimes this means they can't talk at all. Sometimes it means they have a more difficult time finding the right words
Neurodiverse: someone who's brain is a little different from other people's. Sometimes this means it is harder for them to learn certain things, but there are a lot of other things as well
Chronic Health: someone who has different things that can make them sick and they won't get better from. Not something like a cough or the flu. This is something like cancer or diabetes
Let's get to know some kids and an adult who was diagnosed as a kid that have different disabilities and see what they love to do, and what they want you to know about them!
Teague (6) - Teague loves being outside- fishing, biking, camping, swimming. He enjoys any sort of arts and crafts and has participated in wrestling for the past three years.
Teague was born deaf (unable to hear) and wears cochlear implants. These are little devices that sit behind the ear and helps people hear! How cool is that?
Cochlear implants are different than hearing aids. When he takes them off he is completely deaf. He may have a harder time hearing so speaking clearly and making sure he can see your lips help him especially in noisy environments. He can get tired easily from his brain processing all the noise. Overall his hearing disability doesn't stop him from trying new things or being just like any of his hearing peers.
Special girl! - anonymous (8) - Our daughter is a social butterfly. If she could just walk around and greet people- that would be a dream day for her. She also loves to play with makeup and watch and cheer for sports.
Her mitochondrial disorder has caused global delays. She uses a walker to walk, or holds someone's hand for support. She also has delayed speech, and fine motor skills.
I can't speak for all special needs kids, but for our daughter- she just wants to be treated like a kid. When we are out, some people that feel uncomfortable with her differences and look away, or pretend not to see her. She wants people to say hi to her. She wants someone to tell her her shirt is cute. She wants someone to ask her to play. And she LOVES when people adjust their play so that she can be involved. It means the world to her when she feels like she's included. Even a simple "Hello!" or "cute walker!" will make her day.
Zoey (21) - Zoey loves Wild Kratts, animal facts and all animals. She also loves Spiderman, Pokémon, her adaptive horseback riding program, jokes. And more jokes. She loves dressing up and having fancy Friday. Dresses, bling, earring, headbands and necklaces. 😉 She loves helping people and giving gifts and is the first one to want to get someone something or share something she has, as she has an enormous and generous heart.
When Zoey was little, her parents found out that she had Rasmussens Encephalitis. An extremely rare seizure disorder. Medications cannot fix this, and when she was only 4-1/2 she had to have a left hemispherectomy (a big surgery on her brain). Zoey was just like a normal kid before this surgery. The surgery saved her life, but also gave her some physical and mental disabilities she still has today.
Zoey has had 9 brain surgeries! She has such an amazing family, and loving nurses, doctors, and people who take great care of her. Even though she has some disabilities, she is still an incredible human, just like you and me!
A few things her mom (Josie) would like you to know about kids with disabilities are:
1) It’s OK to ask questions.
2) Just because special needs kids are in a special needs classroom, doesn’t mean they have a tight abundant friend group. They all have a lot going on and are like everyone else and sometimes don't get along, just like everyone else
3) It’s the little things. You don’t have to do a lot to make a difference. Saying hi. Learning what someone likes. Jokes and favorite movies. Chat them up or offer to help in their classroom if you have some free time. They have a lot to share
4) Helping is great. But being a true friend matters more. We all want to be seen and known. Build connections and have a trusted circle of friends.
5) When talking and hanging out, be patient. Kids with delays sometimes have trouble remembering names at first. Just remind them and have a specific thing that you always do. They will appreciate that
6) Just try!
Sometimes, it's not as easy to get to know kids different from you and I. So it is important that we really try to make everyone feel important and that we care about them.
A lot of people with disabilities have had to deal with tough things that you haven't ever heard of or had to do in your life. For Zoey that is 9 brain surgeries, hundreds of medical and therapy appointments. She is a professional patient. That isn’t easy. For someone with a disability or someone without one.
There is more common ground that one tends to initially think it just sort of needs to be uncovered and nurtured. So take your time, be patient, and really try your best to be a good friend to those around you. No one likes to be left out or feel like they don't matter.
M (6) - M loves the alphabet. He has been practicing his alphabet and phonetics since he turned 2 years old. Everywhere we go, he will read signs and find things that looks like a letter! He also likes lots of movement activities such as running, jumping, climbing, riding his strider bike, swimming and just being able to be outside. He also enjoys playing games on his ipad and making words with playdoh!
M was diagnosed with Autism/neurotypical at 2 years old. He had an excellent team of Therapists and teachers who have helped him work on strengthening his vocabulary, verbalizing his wants and needs, understanding his feelings and socialization skills. He's got a long ways to go but we are making improvements daily!
Those who come in contact with him may have a misunderstanding of some of his behaviors. Sometimes when he is very excited, he'll jump, scream and name funny noises but all this means is that he's happy! This is called stimming and it helps him to calm and express himself. M doesn't have much awareness of his surroundings so if there are a lot of people around, he may act as if he doesn't notice anyone however, he is very observant as he is doing his own thing. M is verbal and can speak however his speech is slightly delayed. M is very compassionate and feels a lot of emotions such as sadness when others are sad, happiness when others are happy and scared when others are angry. Often, he is the loudest in the group but loud voices scares him. He is just a regular 6 year old who loves to play and run around. If other children see him and wonder why he's different, it's ok to ask him what he is doing. He will most likely not look at you in response and may not tell you what he is doing but he is happy to show you. When he is playing by himself while other children are playing together, he is very happy that he is surrounded by children his age. You can interact with him by playing next to him but respecting his space.
Being Autistic or Neurotypical can seem scary, but it's important to remember that they are just like you and me but their brains just works a little differently than ours. Thank you for being kind and understanding!
Harvey (8) - Harvey is very creative. His hands are always busy; he's wanting to build things out of toys or everyday household items, create large to small art pieces or costumes, draw and play video games. Harvey loves to sing, watch movies, reenact lines from movies or videos he's seen. Jumping on the trampoline, swimming and riding a skateboard are some of his favorite outdoor activities.
Harvey was diagnosed through our school district around the age of 3 with autism. After that we sought out a medical diagnosis and it wasn't until the age of 5 we were able to get the diagnosis of autism (ASD), Sensory processing disorder (ASD) and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
I feel like no one can understand all the feelings, thoughts and triumphs that families go through when getting a diagnosis unless you go through it. This isn't something that "goes away," it's an adjustment in many aspects of your life.
I didn't realize it, but after 2 years of my son being diagnosed, I had no clue I had depression linked to my son's diagnosis.
My doctor and I were chatting once and she made me realize I was going through a loss; I was grieving the child I thought he was going to become. I now know that my son still can have all of those things in life that I was once picturing, it just may look different or we may have more hills and valleys to go through to get there. We now try to focus on Harvey's abilities and celebrate all of the challenges he has overcome since our ASD journey began.
Our greatest fear for Harvey is that he may get bullied, be turned into a spectacle and not find true friendship. In reality, I think that's a lot of parents worries. It just sits differently when your child isn't socially the same as their peers. We're fortunate that Harvey is verbal but he doesn't tell us all the things that happen in his day like a normal kiddo would. We honestly have no clue what goes on in his day. I don't know who he's friends with, or if anything good or bad happened that day. Our hope is that there are some kind peers amongst him that reach out and want to include him.
Thank you so much to all these mighty kids and families who are willing to share their amazing lives and stories with us!