In high school, I participated in a nursing assistant technical course my school district offered. One of the mandatory parts of the class, aside from training in clinical settings, was to spend the entire school day in a wheelchair. Though many of my classmates despised the assignment, complaining about the inconvenience it was to us as able bodied people, it served to unexpectedly teach us all quite a valuable lesson. As I graduated the program, and high school in itself, I began to take interest in working with those with special needs. I had always helped with Special Olympics, and volunteered when I could, but when given the opportunity to work hand in hand and love on someone so delicately special-- I jumped at the opportunity.
In my experience, here are a few things I've learned from working with those with special needs:
1. Show interest when you communicate with someone. Nobody wants to feel like they are a chore.
This is so important. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, cared about, and acknowledged. It's human nature. NO ONE wants to be treated as if talking to them or doing things with them is just another item to check off your to-do list. Communication isn't just verbal, it's physical too. Whether its a pat on the shoulder after you just finished mowing the lawn, or a little enthusiasm when greeting someone for the first time that day, it feels good to feel cared about.
2. Be patient with others and yourself.
Have you ever been rushed through something and unable to focus? Or yelled at after doing something wrong? News flash: it's ineffective and there's nothing fun about it. If anything, impatience stresses people out. Not everything happens in an instant. Whether it's learning how to read or wrapping a gift, good things take time.
3. Always smile.
A smile can make all the difference. We've all felt a little awkward or timid at one time or another in our lives. And what a difference it makes in a situation when someone flashes a warm smile.
4. Accidents can (and will) happen.
There is no use crying over spilled milk. Plain and simple. Everyone makes mistakes, so why make such a big deal about it when they happen?
5. The Golden Rule.
Often times there can be an immense amount of discrimination against those with disabilities, whether intellectual or physical. An important, and often times humbling, exercise to practice is putting yourself in the other person's shoes. The Golden Rule isn't something new to us. In fact, I'd guess that many of us were raised by the concept. How would you feel if you were discriminated against for being the slightest bit different? Does that change the way you perceive someone with a disability?
People often look at disabilities as awful measures preventing an individual from enjoying his/her life. Disabilities are just minor differences between us, of which millions already exist. A person who has a disability is simply a person. Don’t let their short comings affect how you view their character or ability to handle a situation. The possibilities are endless!