Being at Ease with Handicapped Children
What To Focus On?
For years people with disabilities have been segregated from the rest of society as if they were truly different from non disabled people. Because of such federal legislation as Public Law 94-142 (the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of l975) and Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of l973, individuals who have handicaps are being integrated into the mainstream of education, employment, and community activities.

It is sad that attitudes cannot also be legislated, but fears and anxieties toward those who are different cannot be decreed illegal. It is hoped that the present generation, growing up in situations where people with handicaps are a natural part of school and community life, will put to rest forever the notion that people with handicaps are "different."

What Special Treatment Should Be Given?
Children with disabilities need to be treated, as much as possible, like any other child. It is unfair to the child when he or she is not allowed to compete. The world at large is mainly inhabited by people with the ability to see, to hear, to speak, and to move about freely. Children with disabilities need to practice meeting the standards of the "normal" world while they are growing up so they can gain confidence and independence.

How Can One Help Feeling Sorry For Children With Disabilities?
If you perceive the disabled child as someone to be pitied, someone from whom little should be expected or demanded, probably little will come. If, on the other hand, you expect the child to succeed and grow, to learn to act independently, then chances are good that the child will become a successful, growing, independent student.

How Should Frustrations Or Temper Tantrums Be Handled?
Such problems should be handled the same way they would be handled if the child did not have a handicap. It is easy to assume that disabled people exist in a continuous state of frustration. This is not true. Of course disabled children may feel frustrated at times. These frustrations should be handled with good sense, remembering that a certain amount of frustration is healthy and promotes growth but that too much frustration can be defeating.

How Should You Respond To Everyday Accomplishments?
It is a joy to see a child with a handicap able to do the same things that other children do, such as read, play on the jungle gym, or go through the lunch line. It is important, however, to distinguish between accomplishments that are attained with about the same degree of effort that is required from most children and those accomplishments that really represent a challenge to the disabled child.

If people react to ordinary accomplishments that were not particularly difficult to attain as if they were extraordinary, children can develop unrealistic views of themselves--either an inflated view of their capabilities and accomplishments, based on the continual amazement elicited from others, or a deflated view, based on the obviously limited expectations others hold for children with disabilities. On the other hand, encouragement and reinforcement should be expressed when youngsters accomplish tasks made difficult by their specific disabilities, for example, dressing for a child with cerebral palsy.

How Much Help Should Be Given?
One of the benefits of mainstreaming is that children can help their disabled classmates. But too much help can become a hindrance if it robs the child of opportunities to learn and practice independence. Generally if a child cannot handle some procedure or material, she or he should be taught how to do it if at all possible.

So Children With Communication Problems Also Have Problems In Thinking?
One disability that people have trouble coping with involves speech and language. Whether the communication impairment results from a physical disability such as cerebral palsy or a speech handicap such as stuttering, the listener tends to anticipate what the disabled person is trying to say and not allow the person the time she or he needs to communicate.

It is easy to mistakenly perceive people who have severe communication disabilities as also having impaired intelligence because of their simple, poorly articulated speech. A natural tendency is to respond to this kind of language pattern with a simplification of your own speech. This should be avoided. Individuals who have problems expressing themselves, unless they are also hearing impaired, generally have no problem understanding normal, complex language.

Is There Anything Special That Needs To Be Done?
There are special considerations that can be helpful to children with special disabilities. For example, keep in mind that children who have visual impairments depend upon what they hear and touch to bring them information about their surroundings. Provide opportunities for visually impaired children to handle things that children with normal vision can simply look at. It is also helpful to describe new people, things, and events as they come into the child's environment. Allow time for the child to ask what is going on.

Children who have hearing impairments or who are deaf must depend on sight for most of their knowledge. Make sure the hearing impaired child can see the face of whoever is speaking; many cues are picked up through lipreading and facial expression. Arrange for seating near the teacher or leader. Do not assume that a youngster understands you just because you have his or her attention. Ask whether you have been understood.

Children who have a mental retardation problem can get along better when directions are short and clearly stated. Break down tasks into a series of steps that can be completed in sequence. Maintain a routine, teach new procedures, and give time for practice.

Youngsters with orthopedic impairments should be asked whether they need help and, if so, what kind. Do not assume the child needs more help than he asks for.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Much of this information is based on "Questions Teachers Ask." In SUPPORTING VISUALLY IMPAIRED STUDENTS IN THE MAINSTREAM, by Glenda J. Martin and Mollie Hoben. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children, 1977. ED 145 609.
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