There is a plethora of information available nowadays on special children, their types, behavior, and expectations from society and teachers in treating them. This awareness has now finally started to seep in Pakistani society as well. Government policies directed towards special children and number of specialized schools in this regard have contributed greatly towards this mindfulness. However, there is still confusion regarding techniques and acceptable ways to communicate with these children regarding their abilities. Psychologists around the globe now offer several tips on communicating with special children to take away trigger elements that may continue to exist in social circles. This article highlights some highly recommended tips for parents, educators and therapists to empower children with learning disabilities, just by using the right words.
Avoid Focus on Labels
The Disability Rights Act Pakistan (2020) and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is implemented in most schools of Pakistan, require that the special child should be analyzed and labelled by psychologists to identify the kind of learning disability they have. This does make sense as it can help teachers and parents in identifying their strengths and weaknesses. This can be used as a guide later on.
However, the conflict arises regarding how this information is to be communicated to the child with learning disability. According to ‘Labeling Theory’, labels more often result in promoting the nonstandard behavior to become more stable. A child being labelled as lazy and useless is more likely to become one in future instead of changing it. Same goes for special children. When we tell a child that he cannot read, write, compute or talk like normal kids, he/she can hold lower expectation from themselves. This, in turn, can trigger humiliation and severe reactions in everyday social settings.
So what is the right way to communicate with special children about their learning disabilities? Experts suggest explaining to the child why labels are important in the first place. Communicate with them how labels can help the child in improving areas where they are weak. For instance, tell the child with dyscalculia how identifying he has dyscalculia can lead to figuring out assistive technology for them like talking calculators. For a student with dyslexia and resulting reading difficulty, parents and teachers can approach techniques by experts for dyslexia to improve reading skills. Knowing the significance of label can reduce the negative effects for special children.
Do not use Stigmatizing Words
Avoid using stigmatizing language especially for young children. Using strong words for describing their disabilities can result in added focus of children on their disabilities and challenges instead of strengths or possibilities. When telling students about their learning disabilities, optimize the sequence of words. For instance, instead of saying ‘Autistic child’, you can tell them that they are students with autism. Similarly, instead of dyslexic students, you can refer to them as a student with dyslexia. This little change in arrangement of words can have a huge impact on self-perception of special children as their disability is not highlighted in the first word they are referred to. Moreover, avoid using strong words like disorder, disability, severe or fail. Instead try words like learning differences, area of improvement, diverse, unique and special.
Focus on their Strengths and work on their Weaknesses
No child or adult can progress and improve when they are judged by their weaknesses first. A child can be excellent in arts and weak in mathematics or science. When someone is referred to as a bad student because of their performance in mathematics or science, they are bound to be demotivated with low self-esteem. However, when you tell a child that he can excel in arts but need to work further on his mathematics to score good, he has better chances of success. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity created a beautiful phrase for Dyslexia. It reads as, “Dyslexia is an island of weakness surrounded by a sea of strengths.”
Parents and teachers should use this approach by discussing with special children about their super abilities. They should also discuss how there are some areas that need more attention and hard work. By using overt language about weaknesses of special children, we can significantly reduce utilization of services that may help promote mental well-being. Research shows that children with learning disabilities always have some special skills. These strengths of special children are an effective way to positively converse about the weaknesses and how to overcome them.
Factors that Empower Children with Disabilities
For years, psychologists and researchers have been investigating factors that have given edge to students with disabilities over children without any disabilities. Some of these factors that can distinguish and empower special children and that should be communicated and assisted by caretakers include the following:
Self-Awareness: When children with disabilities have knowledge about their unique strengths and weaknesses, they become better equipped for competing using their skills first. This also allows them to act proactively and accepting any challenges that come their way. Mindfully, carrying out regular discussions on these factors with special children can greatly affect their future.
Persistence: By using right words, caretakers for children with disabilities can assure their support, cooperation and guidance in difficult times. When this support is communicated effectively, children with disabilities can face challenges and hard times more calmly. This also results in a better and resilient behavior from their side at difficult times. Eventually, it builds up their persistence and can be a great payoff in future.
Coping up with Emotions: Emotional Outburst is one of the most common and heartbreaking issue faced by special children. This outburst is usually a result of interaction with peers and society that is less understanding of special children’ situation. Caretakers need to extensively research this phenomenon of common triggers for children with disabilities. They need to communicate how children should react to these triggers. Preparing them for emotional triggers in advance can help them become ready in future. It also equips them better to cope with emotions.
Parents, teachers and therapists should use recommended language, expressions and scripts for children with disabilities. Using rights words and language with special children can make a huge difference in our interaction with them. This also improves their interaction with the outside world and themselves.