I think that for so many in the field of education, this seems like an obvious statement. See the child. Of course; that’s what educators are charged with after all, isn’t it? And yet, is it really happening? How many teachers develop preconceived notions about a student before they even meet based on a classification, a file or a teacher-to-teacher report? How many times do we allow ourselves to judge one another based on stereotypes, misconceptions or assumptions?
Some thoughts from my own behavior and practice:
Do not allow for preconceived notions.
In our school, I ensure that teachers have the information necessary to keep our children safe when school opens, but I intentionally wait a few sessions before sharing specific strategies and teacher-to-teacher information about classified students. Why? Because first impressions matter. No student should be underestimated based on his struggles from the year before. We shouldn't expect a student to behave poorly simply because she has had behavior issues in the past. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.
When you encounter a child with a disability, speak directly to the child.
When you speak to a child’s caregiver, you automatically imply that the child is invisible. If you say hello to a child and she does not answer, it is likely that her parent or caregiver will step in to help facilitate the conversation. But it is on their terms. Ever say hello to a shy toddler? When she grips an adult’s leg, the adult typically says, “she’s shy”. This is the same concept. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.
Involve children in appropriate decisions.
Just as you would involve neurotypical children in their own decision-making when it becomes developmentally appropriate, do the same for children with disabilities. Ask them to be involved in increasingly more mature decisions such as what they might like to wear or eat, what interests them and what they believe their strengths and weaknesses might be. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.
Children with disabilities are unique. All children are unique! A child may have a classification of autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD or a learning disability; but that doesn’t mean he will demonstrate the same behaviors and competencies as someone else with the same diagnosis. See the child; not her disability, not his limitations.
Every child counts. It really can be that simple.