Occasionally we have the privilege of meeting a child who so clearly and obviously takes hold of the opportunity A Touch of Understanding offers and “runs with it.” This time it was Emily (name changed), a little eight year old girl in a second grade classroom in Placer County.
It was during the demonstration portion of our activity period, when I explained the adaptive equipment: artificial arms and legs, Braille slates and styluses, wheelchairs, crutches, canes and walkers. Emily had come into the room using her walker, so I asked if she would like to share anything with her class. I wish you could have seen her shy smile as she proudly struggled to stand (all 3′ of her) in front of 40 of her peers.
She began in a tiny voice to tell of her complicated birth; the wonderful doctors; her therapy three times a week; how lucky she is; and how, one day, if she works hard enough, she will walk without her walker. I asked if she would like to answer questions from the children. She then assumed the “teacher” role, calling on each child by name and answering their many thoughtful questions.
A transformation occurred on the playground the following week. Although the students in Emily’s classroom understood her challenges and necessary accommodations, the children from the other classes did not. Lunchtime and recess had been difficult. Teachers reported that following A Touch of Understanding, they saw something they had never seen before. Emily was in line to play tetherball. (Teatherball is of utmost importance to the children at this school.) The teachers watched to see what would happen. Emily stood with her walker, inching up as each child before her finished his/her turn. When it came time for Emily to approach the pole, she walked up, knelt down, and pushed her walker away. Her opponent, walked up and without quesiton, knelt down and began to play. No questions asked, no problems from the opponent or the children waiting in line for their turn. Emily, who had been on the outside, was now “in.”
Emily joined our ATOU team for that day to educate her peers. They were able to use equipment that previously had frightened them and to talk with and question people who use this equipment daily. Those students learned to look beyond the disability and see the person, this time that person was a little eight year old girl named Emily.