Children come in all shapes and sizes, colors and shades, abilities and disabilities. Some of their differences are visible at first glance, but their most important differences are under the surface, hidden from view.
What kinds of disabilities are obvious?
Downs Syndrome, Vision Impairment, Hearing Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, etc…
What kinds of disabilities are invisible?
ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Traumatic Brain Injury, Intellectual Disabilities
An imperfect perception
When I was undergoing treatment for cancer, I wore wigs and hats, but the effects were still obvious. There was no hiding the fact that I was sick. Strangers treated me with kindness, and unfortunately, pity…. My illness was visually obvious.
However, just days before I was diagnosed, I looked healthy and strong. Strangers expected me to open doors for myself. No one offered to carry heavy packages for me. My work associates counted on me to manage my responsibilities.
Which version of me was actually better off? Take a look at the pictures. In the first picture, I looked healthy and strong, but under the surface, my cancer was killing me, and would have if I hadn’t gotten the proper diagnosis and the right treatment. In the second picture, I had no hair or eyelashes, and my fingernails were falling off from the effects of the chemo treatments. Although I looked and felt pitiful, I was at least identified as having a need and was getting the appropriate care.
I’ve found that children who have disabilities which are easily seen and appear obvious are regarded with compassion; strangers are patient, and teachers make all the necessary accommodations without complaint or argument. Children whose disabilities lie under the surface, hidden from view, are often treated as though they have no disability at all, and therefore have no excuse for not meeting the social norms of behavior or academic performance.
An unfair impression
ADHD and learning disabilities are brain based and do not appear on the physical features of the children who are affected. Unfortunately for them, these children are viewed as lazy, unmotivated, and troubled when they do not perform at the same level as their non-disabled peers. When in fact, many times the opposite is the truth. Most of these children spend many more hours on their homework than the “average” student because that’s what it takes for them to get a passing grade.
Other children appear lazy and unmotivated because they have given up on trying any more. After years of failing, they eventually give up when they conclude that school is a worthless use of their time and energy.
What do they need?
Children with invisible disabilities need teachers who are willing to look below the surface and take the time to try to understand their challenges. They must have teachers who will change the way they teach to meet their students’ individual needs.
Jesus Christ was the “master teacher” of the New Testament. His example as a teacher should be a guide for us. He took time to listen and understand His disciples’ individual learning styles. He held His disciples accountable, but He also extended patience and mercy when it was appropriate. Jesus changed His teaching strategies to fit the individual needs of His students:
- visual lessons (writing in the sand)
- auditory methods (Sermon on the Mount)
- object lessons (bread of life, mustard seed, olive branch, yeast, salt, money, etc…)
- illustrations (parables)
Jesus told a parable in Luke 15 about a shepherd who lost one little sheep out of his herd of 100. The shepherd left the 99 remaining sheep safely tucked away in the fold while he went out into the wilderness to rescue the one sheep who had wondered away from the rest. This suggests that Jesus believed that it is not only acceptable, but necessary to give a greater portion of our time and resources to the children who need us more than the rest.
If He were a teacher today, Jesus may be accused of not being “fair.” We as teachers should follow His example, and be less concerned with being fair and be more focused on seeking those children whose disabilities may not be obvious to the rest.