Handicapped, disabled, special, and the dreaded "r" word. Those are all terms that are often synonymous with people who have different needs. The world has been changing so much in the last few decades and the LGBTQ community has been becoming more accepted and pride has blossomed. Awesome!
Unfortunately people are still uneducated when it comes to seeing the intelligence people with disabilities have that is often shrouded by the diagnosis. Now uneducated should be taken with a grain of salt. I find acceptance within this field is not based on intelligence, rather it's based on limited exposure. Whenever I have a conversation with someone about the work I do in a special needs class it usually follows the route of them recalling a few kids within their own school who had a disability. It is at least encouraging to know that these kids aren't going unnoticed; however, most people did not know the first thing about that kid. A diagnosis is the easy part. But what is their favorite thing to talk about? What is their favorite subject? What they do on the weekend? There's usually no answers when that gets brought up.
I am quite lucky to work in an environment where other students come in to mingle with our kids and will learn firsthand how to best support these kids. It is very clear that they view these kids as something other than disabled. How many people needed a tutor in at least one of their classes? I know I did. How often did some students have to go in and get a bit of extra help on a problem they just couldn't get? I did. You don't have to have a disability in order to need extra help. And I'm sure a lot, if not all, of you didn't see yourselves as being disabled. Well the truth is everyone has a handicap. Diagnosis or not. I can't sing. Even on a good day of me thinking my car karaoke sessions would be what guarantees my fame, I know without the music I sound like garbage. That's my handicap. But it doesn't mean I'm not good at other things. The same thinking can be applied to people with disabilities, it's just on a different level. One kid may not enjoy subtle changes to their environment and may react in a way that causes heads to turn, but the writing and the art they produce is done without limitations and often becomes incredible masterpieces. The unfortunate part of all that is their abilities become shadowed by their means of communication.
The secret to disability?
There is none. Everyone here has friends who have different needs that are unique to them. One friend may require a more gentle approach to advice giving, one friend you may leave earlier for because you know they don't like being late. You may know you can joke around with a friend and it's lighthearted. But another friend may take things more seriously. This is all the same with disability. One kid may need a visual schedule in order to have a good day, redirection may be needed to help another kid stay on task, or you might just need to deny the attention wanted from a kid who is acting out. All these little strategies seem small, but work more wonders than one would think.
In conclusion the next time you see a kid with a disability trying to talk to you or sitting alone, challenge yourself. Talk to them. See what they're all about. If their personality is not something you see yourself meshing with or it may be someone you might never see again, at least you tried. At least you looked past the disability to find out something new about someone else. You may surprise yourself and learn the beauty of disability.