A nine-year old boy with cerebral palsy sat in his wheelchair alone outside a classroom door. Unable to speak, unable to move, he waited. He waited for minutes, for hours. He had been removed from his classroom by his teacher. His infraction? Disrupting the class with his drooling. His fellow classmates helped him by wiping his chin. His teacher found this distracting. She removed him. This boy is now a sophomore in a Placer County high school.
His mother had tears in her eyes when I told her that I would try to arrange A Touch of Understanding presentation at his school. Through the years, she had spoken to his classmates, talked with his teachers, pleaded with administrators. “Take time to get to know my son. Don’t just see his disability.” But her efforts had been disappointing and frustrating.
This time would be different. We invited this boy and his parents to join us as part of the ATOU team the day we visited his school. Instead of being seen as a crippled body being wheeled around campus, this young man became part of a team of accomplished individuals, who happen to have disabilities.
Mike, who lost both hands in a race car accident, told the students of regularly flying aerobatic planes using his two myoelectric hands. Another volunteer spoke of her school years, career in journalism and raising her family while dealing with the challenges of epilepsy. Along with these volunteers, this young boy and his family told of his abilities, interests, goals and sense of humor. Rather than appearing as parents asking for special consideration for their son’s limitations, they were a family telling of their challenges, accomplishments, joys and hope.
During the question and answer period that followed, one student, surprised by what she heard, said, “You mean he can understand us?” (This made me wonder what unkind words he had heard spoken by classmates who thought he did not understand.)
The hands-on learning experiences of the activity centers (wheelchairs, artificial limbs, braces, crutches, canes, walkers, Braille, and mirror-writing) combined with the interaction with other speakers changed the attitudes of these high school students.
With A Touch of Understanding providing the platform, this young man became a “real person” to his schoolmates.