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Making my invisible disease, visible. Fostering acceptance among young students.

Title – Making my invisible disease, visible. Fostering acceptance among young students.

By – Karen Daly

I opened 23 minds today.

Ms. Daly–that is, I–brought a cane to Second Grade today, but I didn’t explain. Instead, I read the class a book about Helen Keller and asked questions such as: What is a disability? How do you think people get disabilities? Can you catch a disability? What can people with disabilities do in their lives to compensate for their handicaps? The class and I had a very interesting conversation. Students told me about wheelchairs and seeing-eye dogs, both visual signs of a handicap.

Then I surprised the little ones. I said, “I am disabled.” Their eyes grew wide, their jaws dropped, and I sensed a teachable moment! The kids were amazed that their own teacher, who doesn’t look handicapped, had a debilitating chronic pain disorder – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). It was satisfying to be able to teach these young minds that a person doesn’t have to look a certain way in order to be handicapped. I told them that they had always treated me well, and they should treat other handicapped people the same way. They should always think about how they can be considerate of other people: Hold a door open for someone on crutches, or, for that matter, for anyone who is struggling. Don’t say bad things when they hear John, a cerebral palsy student, scream as he comes in from recess. I was overjoyed to see my class understanding and processing this very important information by asking me questions and telling me stories.

At the end of class, I was convinced that this is a lesson I would enjoy teaching to all of my students. Hopefully, by making general education kids aware of special needs, I can help to create future generations of sensitive and empathetic adults, child by child.

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Karen Daly

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