Young children and their reaction to disability.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself doing a lot of work in Primary schools promoting inclusion and working with the children to help them learn to understand and respect diversity.
Part of this work involved bringing people with a disability, specifically people with limb loss, into schools to speak with the children. After giving a talk, the amputees would join me and my coaches to deliver inclusive and adapted sports to the little ones. I’ve been doing this type of work for a while now but I still find it interesting to observe the reaction of the younger children when they meet someone with a disability. In my experience, the children often have several different reactions. However, on occasion, some of their reactions are in sharp contrast. There are little ones, like a young girl called Saffron (not her real name) that we met at a school back in the summer of 2018, who are beautifully accepting, sometimes to the point of nonchalance. This is sometimes due to the child having a member of the family, close friend, or relative who has a disability. There are those who are inquiring. They readily approach us and are full of questions, along the lines of “does it hurt”, “will it grow back” and, one of my favourites, asked to Marc, one of our coaches, “what’s it like having a robot leg.” Then there are the little ones, like Sally (not her real name) incidentally from the same school, who’s reaction ranges from apprehension to outright fear.
I blame the parents!
Seriously though, they are getting this reaction from somewhere. I have seen first-hand parents telling children to “come away” and “don’t stare” and in some cases, I’ve heard people say to their children “don’t look or the Boogieman will get you.” What is it with some people? The worst case I have ever seen was at a community event. I was with a colleague who happened to be a double amputee. So, he was a person of short stature. I heard a man say to his young son, “Oh come and look at the funny little man”.
It is important that we educate our children in this regard. I am fortunate to be working with some great coaches. An important strand to my work is education. I want to try to dispel any negative or preconceived ideas about amputees and wish to educate both children and adults about the facts and reality of living with limb loss.
I offer a series of short, two-hour sports events to Primary school children delivered by qualified coaches, many of which have a disability.
The interaction of people with disabilities and children through a shared sporting experience helps to challenge assumptions and break down barriers. It helps to overcome the “fear factor” The fear that this is different and therefore scary.
It also helps to educate our children to be accepting and respecting diversity. Coming together helps them be a bit more like Saffron and a bit less like Sally.
* Due to the current COVID-19 situation, these events are temporarily suspended until 2021.