See the Child (Reaction to the 2013 UNICEF Report on Children with Disabilities - Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two-part series written in response to the UNICEF report: State of the World's Children 2013: Children With Disabilities. Please click here to read Part 1.

See the child.

It should really be that simple, right?

And still, the latest findings from UNICEF, in their recent State of the World’s Children 2013: Children With Disabilities, urge us to see the child before the disability.

I think that for many of us in the field of education, this seems like such an obvious statement. Honestly, when I first read it, my reaction was, “Well yeah, of course. They needed research to support this idea?”

But maybe my reaction is unique. I think that, unfortunately, it may be, as this just isn’t happening everywhere yet. And in some places, it’s not happening at all.

So how do we do it? How does one go about seeing the child before the disability?

When you encounter a child with a disability, speak directly to the child.
When you speak to a child’s caregiver, you automatically imply that the child is invisible. If you say hello to a child and she does not answer, it is likely that the parent or caregiver will step in to help facilitate the conversation. But it is on their terms.  Ever say hello to a shy toddler? When she grips an adult’s leg, the adult typically says, “she’s shy”. This is the same concept.

Involve the child in appropriate decisions.
Just as you would involve neurotypical children in their own decision-making when it becomes developmentally appropriate, do the same for children with disabilities. Ask them to be involved in increasingly more mature decisions such as what they might like to wear or eat, what interests them and what they believe their strengths and weaknesses are.

Avoid assumptions.
Children with disabilities are as unique as everyone else. Just because a child may carry a diagnosis of autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD or a learning disability doesn’t mean that he will demonstrate the same behaviors and competencies as someone else with the same diagnosis. You need to get to know each individual to best meet his needs. For more on my thoughts about making assumptions, read “You Know What They Say About Assuming…

See the child.  It really can be that simple.

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