People fear what they don’t know so use these 5 ways to help kids understand disabilities.
Rachel Olstad, mom to a child with special needs, is working with the Southern Oregon Joni and Friends Board to change that with interactive workshops called “Come Feel What I Feel.” They visit schools, churches, and organizations with displays promoting understanding of various disabilities. Olstad shared five stations you can use in your church.
“We post definitions and facts about disabilities on posters and encourage people to read all the information before trying the experiences for themselves,” says Olstad. “Once people feel what children with disabilities experience, their hearts open toward this ministry.”
The displays are simple, and everyday items facilitate the experiences.
- Which Way? — Using a hand mirror, have participants copy a sentence by looking at its reverse image in the mirror. This is how some children with dyslexia and central processing dysfunctions see print. With patience and help, they can learn to read by seeing words in a different way.
- Tell Me If You Can — Some children with autism have difficulty expressing emotions. To help people experience this frustration, prepare cards describing different emotional situations. People choose a card and try to get a friend to understand what it says without using words.
- Walk in My Shoes — To understand what it feels like to have physical impairments, ask participants to tie shoelaces on a pair of boots while wearing large gloves. Or, ask them to make a sandwich with one hand tied behind their back. Children with cerebral palsy, birth defects, or amputations are skilled at adapting to the world around them.
- Yes! No! Maybe So! — Some children have paralysis that affects their communication. To understand how this feels, create a picture collage and a poster with large letters of the alphabet. Give participants straws to hold in their teeth, and ask them questions they can only answer by pointing to a picture or letters that spell out a word.
- Pour It On — To understand visual impairments, blindfold participants and have them pour six ounces of water into a cup with the help of a measuring stick. It’s always appropriate to ask a blind person if he or she needs help, but many can do things by themselves.
As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God’s power shows up best in weakness. When families affected by disability thrive at church, we see God at work. In other words, we’re more aware of God when we’re aware of others’ needs.
Pat Verbal is the general editor of Special Needs Ministry for Children and manager of curriculum development at the Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends International Disability Center.