Learning from our special needs community
In 1963, a movie was released titled “A Child Is Waiting”. The film starred Burt Lancaster as a strict director of a state mental health institute for children with learning disabilities, or as it was referred to in those times — retardation.
In comes a passionate and tenderhearted teacher that challenges Mr. Lancaster’s methods, played by Judy Garland. Unlike most of Garland’s other films, there were no happy songs or dancing. The film was serious and in black and white.
Imagine a film depicting the lives of children in the early 60s. Children with disabilities. Some of them scream and cry randomly. Some fight with their classmates. Some don’t say a word.
The children are communicating with us, just in ways we don’t understand. In the movie, Garland becomes closely attached to a teenage boy who was abandoned by his divorced parents. The boy likes his new teacher, something he tries to show her without saying a word.
Sometimes the boy clings on to her for long periods of time. Other times he fights with classmates, shouts loudly, and throws items. He’s trying to tell her something.
The film does a brave job of trying to convince 1960s America that there may be better ways to understand and take care of children with disabilities. Better ways than committing them to a state mental institute.
This coming Monday at 6:00 p.m., WNMU is hosting an annual event called Hoops 4 Hope. It’s a fun time for people with learning and physical disabilities. There are indoor games, music and food. More importantly, it is an opportunity for students to interact with this special community.
The event focuses on four hopes: a hope to bring students together to learn about people with disabilities, a hope to build common ground among different people through athletics, a hope to have students feel comfortable with people of different backgrounds, and a hope to learn more about how we interact with each other as humans.
The new teacher in “A Child Is Waiting” tried to comprehend her new teenage friend, not through words, but through hugs and smiles. She let him often know that she did understand, with her eyes, her tears and her laughter.
We have come a long way since 1963. Even now, each one of us can extend a hand and share a grin with our special community. It’s our responsibility, not theirs, to learn how they speak, not to teach them how we speak.
I’ve learned more from them than I thought possible. You can too.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on March 16, 2016.