A Great Way To Explain Special Needs To Kids

Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day, dedicated to raising awareness for people with CP. As I know from my own perceptions before and after I had my son, Max, there is much awareness to be raised. When he was diagnosed with CP as a tot, I thought it was tragic. I could not understand how someone could have CP and have a good life. Max is 10 now, doing well and living a wonderful life—one that is not defined by the CP. He has his challenges, but one of the biggest ones is contending with people’s misunderstanding about what it means to have special needs. People are often only able to see his disabilities, not his abilities.

Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor  disability. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the rate of children with cerebral palsy is approximately 3 per 1000 kids. Given that there are 74 million children in our country, that means a fair number of so-called typical kids know someone who has CP. Still, they need help from adults understanding what it means to have a disability. Kids may not get, say, why some kids with CP have issues with speech, as Max does. “Is he a baby or a big boy?” is a question little kids often ask. I usually say, “He’s a big kid, and he has some issues moving his tongue—but he talks in his own way!” And then, to encourage conversation, I’ll say, “Max understands you—ask him what his favorite movie is!” If his iPad and speech app aren’t handy, I’ll translate what he’s saying.

Explaining why kids with disabilities get certain accommodations in school, at events or places like Disney World may prove trickier. In our family, Max’s little sister sometimes tells me that it’s not “fair” that Max gets extra help with his homework and extra attention. Recently, a reader told me about a brilliant analogy that I shared with her, and it helped her better understand. Well, a little—she’s 8 and still in that it’s-all-about-me stage and when do kids grow out of that?!

I’m sharing the analogy and the illustration with you, sources unknown. They’ve been floating around online for months now, spreading a great message. I hope you can use them to raise awareness with your own children.

There were three boys who wanted to watch a baseball game. One boy could easily see over the fence. One boy could almost see over the fence but was still too short, and the third boy was way to short to watch the game from over the fence. Someone dropped off three wooden crates. Fairness would say each boy has equal access to each crate but logic would state the the tall boy doesn’t need a crate because he can already see over the fence. The middle sized boy only needs one crate. But the short boy needs two crates—creating an environment in which they are all equal height and can see the game. Accommodating kids with special needs isn’t about “fair”—it’s about leveling the playing field so everyone has equal access to activities, programs, events, fun and life.

From my other blog:

Let’s talk about kids with special needs and special treatment

I’m not a great parent just because I have a kid with special needs

Parents who run races with their kids with disabilities

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