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Thoughts on Working with Children – Dana Berezowsky May 27, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Society.
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Dan said in school yesterday that Ami’s legs disgust him. Why? “Because they are crooked.” Ella’s response: “So you’re perfect, are you?” My response: “Deal with it.”

Now, writing about it at home, another question arises: what does it bring up for Dan, or any other child, to see a person with a physical difference? Perhaps fear? The fear that it could happen to me too? Disability is frightening at the most personal level – what if it happens to me? What if I have a child like this? Noam, who works with the survivors of wars and road accidents, sees it all the time – this coming to terms with what is lost.

I remember a man I once saw with three other children on the bus. Through the window we could see that he walked a little funny. It’s true. But if we tell him – he will be hurt. If we laugh at him from a distance – it will be insensitive. He really does have a funny walk. I try to think what I would tell my own children.

I have a problem with preaching morals. “We don’t say things like that,” “It’s not nice” – this kind of speech represses the problem but does not make it disappear. Then I thought to say – “I wonder whether he’s a nice person.”

Perhaps this is what takes us beyond our superficial judgments: of what is beautiful, ugly, disabled. The question “Who is this person?” To see him as a person. Even if I have no intention of actually getting to know him, my perspective on him might change.

And to Dan? “So what if Ami has crooked legs?” There is no point trying to blur the facts. But we can point out different aspects of them. And certainly we can point out to Dan that saying it in Ami’s hearing is very insulting…

Dan told me the answer: “It disgusts me”. That is a strong statement. Does it frighten him? Can disgust hide some other feeling? All the same, is it not worth trying to understand the source of his disgust? Does Dan’s statement really come from some inner feeling, or is he looking for a way to provoke a response? Also a question.

As an educator I have two options: to cancel out Dan’s statement in a few words; “Deal with it”; “So you’re perfect, are you?” Or else to enter into the depths of the issue. This in itself removes the sting from the provocation: he wanted to annoy, and got a lecture.

The correct response must depend on the time and place, and we are bound to get it wrong many times. In the end, intuition and experience are the best tools we have.

Dana Berezowsky is an occupational therapist working at the Ilonot School, Jerusalem, and in a ‘training apartment‘ for teenagers with Cerebral Palsy. Translation: Jessica Sacks.

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