We all want our children to experience equal opportunities in school, not only where education is concerned but in the overall enjoyment of school spirit festivities. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Disabled children are often excluded or ridiculed by their school mates, and prevented from taking advantage of the same benefits enjoyed by their peers. Many times this is due to inadequate resources and facilities that educate children about bullying, acceptance, and diversity. In order to allow and encourage school spirit in all children, including disabled participants, it’s necessary to lay the groundwork for inclusion and understanding.
So, why does this matter?
According to a 2011 consensus by the U.S. Department of Education, 95% of disabled students between the ages of 6-21 are served in public schools, with 13.4% of all public school attendees diagnosed with a learning or physical disability. Since then it is almost a given that one’s child will have a disabled classmate–or many–throughout their public school tenure.
Inclusion is an ethical, legal responsibility!
Many parents and educators strive for the legal and ethical practice of school inclusion of all students, regardless of their gender, culture, race, and personal needs. But often a school is not equipped to safely and adequately practice healthy integration due to insufficient funding, outdated tools, and lack of proper training. Sometimes a simple but detrimental lack of awareness can contribute to a negative school experience for disabled children. However, there are easily accessed resources for teachers, parents, and students to better understand the needs of disabled peers, and how to include them in all fulfilling school experiences.
Increasing School Spirit with Disabled Children
Here is a comprehensive guide to increasing school spirit in disabled children, as well as encouraging teachers, peers, and parents to embrace diversity and bridge the gap between what is “normal” and what is “different.”
Set A Good Example.
Children are extremely impressionable, and will often mimic the behaviors and attitudes of adults. Sometimes we may not realize the causal effect we have on our younger counterparts, and for that reason, it is important to be mindful of how we approach and address diversity. Throughout our lives we will encounter and interact with different types of people, and by showing our children that this is a positive thing they too can approach their disabled schoolmates with a similar openness.
Vocabulary plays an enormous role in how a disability is treated, and the words and phrases we use to describe those of varying physical and mental abilities can make or break a child’s perception and attitude towards his or her peers. When discussing diversity with your child or pupils, make sure to use politically correct terminology.
Be Open To Discussion.
Children are naturally curious, and far less restrained in openly questioning their surroundings and peers. This is a good thing! If your child or pupil approaches you asking about a disabled classmate–however frankly–let this be a welcome opening for a healthy discussion. Just as children can be negatively influenced by witnessed behavior, so too can they be positively affected by honest, valuable discourse.
Be careful not to reprimand your child for using inappropriate vocabulary at first, or making incorrect assumptions; this is all part of how children learn right from wrong. Provide simple but powerful answers to their questions using positive affirmations such as:
* “We are all unique, and this is a good thing.”
* “Everyone wants to be accepted by their friends, even those who are disabled.”
* “A disability is not contagious.”
* “Your disabled friend may not be able to do all the things you can do, or learn as quickly, so that’s why they look up to you and need your help.”
We can’t just ask our children to include their disabled peers, we must do the same ourselves. This means inviting disabled classmates to social gatherings, both in-school and out. Provide positive examples of both fictional and real-life people with disabilities such as super heroes, athletes, movie stars, and main characters in books and films. Integrate these figures into your child’s daily entertainment and education, so they will be less inclined to compare and differentiate.
Remember The Parents.
Parents of disabled children may also feel alienated and excluded from enjoying school activities, or volunteering their time. Many feel judged or rejected by other parents, and as a result are less inclined to encourage their disabled child to mix with his or her peers. Just as inclusion of a child’s disabled classmate(s) is important, it’s also necessary and rewarding to include their parents. Invite them to volunteer at school sporting events and spirit activities, or help you with birthday parties and after-school gatherings. If you decide to throw a “parents’ night out” include all of the parents, and let your child see just how natural–and fun!–it can be to include everyone.
Make Comfort A Priority.
Even if you’ve found a way to include classmates with disabilities, as well as their parents, providing the necessary comforts and considerations can make all the difference in the experience. Certain physical handicaps require special attention, so make sure to take into account where provisions and assistance may be needed. For example, keep a stadium blanket or two on hand for chilly outdoor sporting events, as well as sanitary supplies for quick and discreet clean-ups. Make sure entryways and exits can be easily accessed, and talk to your child beforehand so they can keep an eye out for their friend.
School Spirit Inclusion is a Worthwhile Endeavor
Helping your child understand the value of school spirit inclusion is no easy feat, but infinitely worthwhile in the end. Every child deserves the best possible experience at school, no matter their abilities or level of performance. For additional help, there are a number of websites and teaching aids to provide both you and your child or pupil with invaluable tools for embracing diversity both inside and out of the classroom. With a little extra effort, everyone can make the most of their school spirit