Rosie was a 6-year-old girl I met when I taught Sunday school. She spent the majority of her time in a wheelchair because she lost the use of her legs from a fall down a flight of steps when she was 4. Rosie taught me so much about children in wheelchairs long before I even went into the area of special education.
What conditions require a wheelchair?
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There are many different causes for a child’s need for a wheelchair. The cause can be directly related to a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, severe mental retardation, and many other conditions where loss of mobility is an issue. The prevalence of children in wheelchairs is hard to measure, but one statistic says that 11 percent of children with special needs have physical disabilities. Some of these children would require a wheelchair. Some children with mobility issues may be less restricted, so they use canes, braces, orthotics, crutches, or walkers. A child may also use a walking cane for part of the day and a wheelchair for the other part of the day. The wheelchair is the most common device for children with mobility challenges, followed by walkers and leg braces.
What are practical ways to help a child in a wheelchair?
There are many things you can do to help a child in your classroom with this kind of special need. It’s important to remember that this child is God’s first, and the special need is second. The child is more like — than different from — other children.
• Check the safety of your classroom environment. Is the pathway between areas wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? Involve the other children in your classroom to keep pathways free from obstacles.
• Talk to the children in your classroom about how to treat a child in a wheelchair.
• Talk with others in the child’s life, such as teachers and parents, to learn more about what the child can and cannot do.
• Keep a journal of successful activities the child can do. Jot down what you’ve observed as limitations.
• Supply a lapboard with an edge to prevent things from falling off the lapboard. The child may already have one.
• If your church has a wheelchair, have children in the class experience what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. Teach a lesson based from the experience. Talk with the child first to see if he or she would mind you doing this.
• Encourage the child to participate in class activities as much as possible.
• Give assistance if the child asks for it. Don’t assume that the child will always need assistance.
• Sit, kneel, or squat to help enhance eye contact when talking with the child.
• Watch the child’s personal space, which includes the wheelchair.
• Avoid the idea that a wheelchair is a symbol of a disability. Rather, it’s equipment to help the child feel less dependent.
• Give the child more time to finish class activities, if necessary, but don’t lower your expectations for the child…there’s a tendency to do this.
• Assign a class buddy to help the child have all the necessary materials to do an activity.
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[Q]: I have a friend who has a child with special needs. She’s exhausted all the time and needs help. I wish someone at our church would help her, but no one seems interested. What should I do?
[A]: You may be the one God is calling to make a difference in your friend’s life. Many times simply recognizing a need is the start of a wonderful ministry from God.
Of course, you don’t need to have an “official” ministry through your church, but doing so will enable you to minister to your friend and possibly eventually others in your community. These are people who very rarely find support and help at church; just think of the difference you’ll make!
To get started, of course pray about it. And then go to Web Extras at www.cmmag.com for resources to help you and your friend.
Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.