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Debunking four common steryotypes about kids with special needs
By: National Network for Child Care


Often what is known about disabled children comes from television and movies. This information often is false and exaggerated and leads people to believe in stereotypes. Stereotypes can be destructive to the relationships between children and new, inexperienced caregivers.



It is important to learn the truth about children with special needs so there can be caring and acceptance. Here are four common stereotypes and the truth behind the image.

1. Stereotype: Children's disabilities are contagious. You might catch what they have just as if they had a cold or the flu.

Fact: Children who have learning, sensory, physical, or mental disabilities were born with them, or they had an illness. They also might have become disabled in an accident. People may be uncomfortable around disabled children because they often look and sound different. They sometimes use special equipment and parts of their bodies in ways that are unfamiliar. There are some stages of growth and development in disabled children that are different from the average for their age. They are not, however, contagious.

Paul is a physically disabled child who was born with a disease called muscular dystrophy. Paul uses a wheelchair because this disease has gradually weakened the muscles in his legs. Paul is a good student and goes to a public school. The people at his school are aware of the needs of disabled students like Paul and have installed ramps, elevators, and special bathrooms inside the building. Even though he needs help with some things, Paul can see, hear, and talk as well as anyone and has lots of friends. Paul rides the bus home after school with his friends. He can do this because the bus has a special lift to enable him to use his wheelchair to board.

2. Stereotype: Children who have a learning disability are not as smart as other children.

Fact: Learning disabled (LD) children are usually of average or above average intelligence. Some LD children are mentally gifted, though their learning disability may hide their gifts.

LD children have normal hearing and eyesight and come from homes and families that may be just like yours. They have trouble learning because they receive, process, and respond to information differently. In other words, LD children have problems with the messages to the brain becoming jumbled. Children with LD usually have difficulty learning how to read, spell, write, remember facts, and do math problems. They also have a hard time paying attention, are easily frustrated, and easily confused by details. They usually understand what is being taught, but often do not understand the way it is being taught.

Larry is a child who has trouble reading and spelling because he reverses letters and words or writes and says words in the wrong order. He sometimes writes "p" when he means "g" or "was" when he means "saw." He also says things like "please up hurry" or reads "nuclear" when the written word is "unclear."

These disabilities interfere with Larry's ability to get good grades in school. Even though he is a smart boy, he used to get discouraged by his learning disability and feel like he was "dumb." One teacher even called him "lazy." That hurt because he knew that he was trying to do his best. Larry's parents and his new teacher know about learning disabilities, and, together, they have created better ways for Larry to complete his assignments. For example, his problems in reading, writing, and spelling are minimized by tape recording his assignments. He practices his reading, writing, and spelling at his own pace with a tutor so it does not interfere with his homework. Larry and his teachers have found that it is hard for him to concentrate when people around him are talking. Because he is easily distracted, he does his homework in a quiet windowless den at home and in a small quiet library room at school. These new ways to study and do school work have improved Larry's grades and made him feel much betterabout himself.

3. Stereotype: All people who are affected by mental retardation are unable to care for themselves and belong in special schools or institutions.

Fact: A cognitive disability means the retarded person is slow to learn. Many cognitivly delayed people can learn to care for their own basic needs. Therefore, they can live at home or even on their own when they are older.

Mary is a mentally disabled child who goes to the same public school as her brother and sister. She takes part in the regular classroom learning activities, but also attends a special class designed to help her focus on the parts of learning that are especially hard for her. In this class, she learns to care for herself, to read simple signs and words, and to write simple notes and letters.

Attending both regular and special classes is called main-streaming. Mary also takes part in the special Olympics program. She is a runner on a relay team.

4. Stereotype: Children who are deaf, hard of hearing, or visually impaired are also are not as smart as average children.

Fact: Children with a sensory disability (loss of hearing or sight) usually are of average or above-average intelligence. People who are deaf, or who have a hearing loss, do not hear words clearly the way you do. This makes it difficult for them to speakthe words clearly. Children who are deaf may sound different from you when they talk. They also may use their fingers, hands, arms, and faces to communicate instead of using their voices. This is called sign language.

Susie is a child with sensory disability. She is deaf, which means she cannot hear with her ears the way the rest of us can. Susie uses special tools to help her "hear." One of these tools is a hearing aid. This hearing aid allows her to hear words almost the way you hear them. It helps improve her speech, too. Susie is smart to take advantage of the tools available to help hearing-impaired children. A special tool Susie uses is called a TDD. A TDD is a machine that will print your conversation if you have a special attachment on your phone and the phone you are calling. Susie uses hers to talk to her grandmother.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - ,NNCC. Lagoni, L. S., Martin, D. H., Maslin-Cole, C., Cook, A., ,MacIsaac, K., Parrill, G., Bigner, J., Coker, E., & Sheie, S. (1989).
Good times with special children. In *Good times with child care* (pp.
58-81). Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University Cooperative
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