The fifth grade children began filing into the multipurpose room one early fall morning. They took their seat on the floor, with the exception of one boy, Mark (name changed), who used a motorized wheelchair.
As I began to question the students about their own strengths and challenges, Mark answered with short, inappropriate responses, rudely and out of turn. The teachers repeatedly corrected him, but he was determined to interrupt the discussion.
This continued while I demonstrated the equipment on display. His behavior abruptly changed when I held up the type of leg brace he wore. His face brightened, he sat up straight in his chair. He was eager to tell us about them. When we encouraged his input, he quickly took off his shoe, brace and sock and showed his classmates the scars from corrective surgery.
As he began to speak, a classmate sitting right next to his chair started to laugh. Thankfully this didn’t deter Mark. He explained the reason he needed the braces and how he put them on every morning. He began to tell of his experiences at Shriners Hospital for Children and some of his impressive medical knowledge. This young boy, who a few minutes before was a source of interruption, was now leading the discussion. His classmate was no longer laughing, but looking at Mark with a serious, sincere expression.
Following the completion of the program, the children filed from the multipurpose room headed back to their classrooms. One of the adults asked if they had enjoyed A Touch of Understanding. Mark looked up and answered boldly, “Yes! And I helped!”
A Touch of Understanding allowed Mark to share his experiences and knowledge far beyond his years, with his classmates. ATOU, through discussions and the activity stations, (wheelchairs, crutches, canes, Braille, artificial limbs, braces and mirror-writing) helped his fifth grade classmates to better understand the challenges he and others with disabilities face on a daily basis. His classmates’ actions changed from disrespectful to those of understanding and acceptance. A Touch of Understanding allowed this young boy to speak on his own behalf to educate his peers.