• By Joanne Summer, MA, CCC-SLP

Teaching Kids About Disabilities

Joanne Summer gets ready to show students Mr. Mouth.

Joanne Summer plays Pizza Party with students.

Recently, I had the honor and the pleasure of representing the New Jersey Speech-Hearing-Language Association (NJSHA) and speaking to many kindergarten through fifth grade students children about speech and language at the Old Bridge Public School District's annual Disabilities Awareness Day on March 31.

Held this year at Alan B. Shepard Elementary School, the program helps "teach children about disabilities and that disabilities are a part of the natural human condition," according to Jean Czarsowski, the school counselor who organized the event. "We want the kids to learn to respect each person, no matter what their differences or disabilities or abilities are."

The program also featured presenters from several other organizations that help people with disabilities, including NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders, NJ Learning Disabilities Association, Children's Book Author Genevieve Petrillo, National MS Society and LADACIN, Inc. (Lifetime Assistance for Developmental and Challenging Individual Needs).

The first groups of children to visit my station were in fifth and then fourth and third grades. I discussed the difference between speech and language with them in an age-appropriate manner. From there, I segued into articulation therapy and language therapy. I demonstrated making some speech sounds with my “Mr. Mouth” puppet and encouraged the children to produce those sounds, showing them how they were making those sounds in the mirror and letting them listen to their productions with my red plastic toy telephones. I also encouraged them to explain how different items go together while playing Apples to Apples Junior.

In the afternoon, my visitors were from the younger grades. I demonstrated some articulation using the mouth puppet, mirror and telephones, but worked on language concepts using "Tell Me How! Tell Me Why!" and "That's Silly!" cards (to target explaining/correcting semantic absurdities).

Like the students, I also learned a few lessons about people with disabilities. One of the representatives from LADACIN, for example, was unable to speak due to her disability, but through assistive technology she could look at various letters on the keyboard, which in turn typed words and then resulted in voiced output. When I mentioned I was from NJSHSA, she used her device to tell me, "I have heard of this organization."

I also took note of some creative techniques to help teach others about a disability. The presenter behind me engaged students in fine motor activities, such as picking up pegs and dropping them into a bucket, while wearing socks over their hands. This activity enabled the students to experience what it feels like to have to overcome a fine motor disability.

After participating in Disabilities Awareness Day, I realize how incredibly valuable a program like this can be. It not only helps students with disabilities feel more accepted and part of the school and home communities, it also helps other children develop respect and appreciation for all people--with and without obvious physical disabilities.

Kudos to the Old Bridge Public School District for conceiving of and implementing this wonderful event! I am so happy that I was able to be a part of it.

Joanne Summer, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist based in Morristown, NJ, has helped hundreds of children improve their speech sound production and language skills. She founded Well Spoken Speech Therapy, LLC, in 2014 after spending 12 years providing therapy to children (K-5) in the New Jersey public school system. In private practice, her clients also include younger children and adolescents. In addition, she treats people of all ages who stutter or otherwise find it difficult to speak fluently—an area in which she has received extensive specialized training.

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