If you are the parent of a child with a disability, or you are a worker involved with a child who is identified as having a disability, you have to confront many myths about disabilities and continually advocate that the child's needs are appropriately and adequately addressed.
In the last 20 years, Federal and State laws and regulations have been passed and court decisions have provided directives that ensure disabled children and adults have rights and opportunities the same as non-disabled people. The most notable of these is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") formerly called the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Public Law 94-142 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991. General Classification
As a parent or advocate for children, it is important to know about classifications used to describe children with "disabilities". The following briefly and simply outline some of the more commonly used classifications and is not meant to be inclusive:
Living With Disabilities
AUTISTIC: When a person displays a great deal of difficulty in responding appropriately to adults and children. The person may demonstrate abnormal responses to sensations (sight, hearing, touch) and may have delayed speech and language skills. They may use toys and objects in ways they were not intended to be used.
EMOTIONALLY DISTURBED: When a person displays specific behaviors over a long period of time and to such a degree that the person is unable to do well in school or a social setting, which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors.
LEARNING DISABLED: When a person of average, or even above-average intelligence, for one reason or another has difficulty learning. The problem may be perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimum brain dysfunction, dyslexia, developmental aphasia, or attention deficit. It means the individual cannot learn the way other people learn, not that the individual cannot learn.
MENTALLY RETARDED: When a person learns at a slower rate because of a significantly lower level of intelligence. Language or motor development is considerably slower than that of other people of the same age or the person seems unable to learn new skills as quickly.
SPEECH IMPAIRMENT: When a person has difficulty speaking. The person may substitute one sound for another, be unable to make certain sounds, leave sounds out, make some speech sounds that cannot be understood, stutter or have difficulty understanding or using words or sentences.
HARD OF HEARING: When a person has a hearing loss which ranges from mild to severe, but can use the sense of hearing either with or without a hearing aid. A person is considered DEAF When s/he has no hearing.
VISUALLY IMPAIRED: When a person is blind or unable to use vision in some situations. A person is partially sighted When some functional sight exists.
ORTHOPEDICALLY IMPAIRED: When a person's performance is being affected due to such conditions as cerebral palsy, amputations, fractures or burns which cause severe restriction of the muscles.
OTHER HEALTH IMPAIRED: When a person is physically handicapped and has limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems, and these affect the individual's functions. These problems may include a heart condition, tuberculosis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, tourette syndrome, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, diabetes or AIDS.
MULTIPLE HANDICAPS: When a person has two or more primary handicaps such as deafness and blindness or severe emotional disturbance and mental retardation.
Being disabled is not a disease. It's not catching. People come in all shapes, sizes and intellectual abilities. Some people are born with their disability, others become disabled through accident or illness. No one chooses to be disabled and no one can predict if it might happen to them. If your child has a disability, help him/her to remember that s/he is not the disability. While it may affect his/her appearance on the outside, who s/he is on the inside is what really matters.
Your child may not be disabled, but you may be confronted with questions about disabilities that you are uncertain on how to handle. Children are naturally inquisitive and spend a lot of time and energy comparing themselves to others. Have you ever had a child ask "why is that person so fat" or "why is her skin darker than mine" or "gee that person looks funny", or "why does that person walk funny? "You may be uncomfortable with responding to these questions. When children ask questions, they leave you a door open to talk with them about the topic. Be open and honest with them.
If you know the information, share it with them. If not, tell them when and how you will get the information. In some instances, you may be caught off guard or there is no answer. It is OK to say "I don't know."
Children may make fun of, or pick on other people, because they look different, learn differently, or have a disability. It is important to help your child understand how "making fun" can really hurt someone and why that is something you don't want them to do.
Children may be reluctant to make friends with someone who has a disability because they are afraid that their other friends will laugh at them or not want to be their friend. Help your child to not let someone's "outside" prevent them from discovering their "inside". Encourage them to reach out, they may discover a new friend.
There are many agencies that offer services to young people with disabilities and their families. To find out what specific programs or services are available, or to get more information, call any of the following (Click on the Agency name for more information):