Children learning what it's like for classmates with disabilities


by By CAM JOHNSON / NWCN Morning News Anchor

Bio | Email | Follow: @camjohnson1

Posted on October 20, 2009 at 11:40 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 19 at 9:50 AM

Imagine a silent world. What would it be like to have a hearing impairment? What would it be like to know exactly what you want to write, but you just can't get your hands to form the letters.

How would it feel to be a little different from everyone else?

Children at John Muir Elementary School in Kirkland, Wash., don't just have to use their imagination. They got to experience what it's like for some of their classmates through a fair brought to the gym in their school.

If you had Sensory Integration Disorder or ADHD, you might have a tough time distinguishing sounds. Everything might sound loud to you. To simulate what that might be like for some children, students at the school listened with headphones to a story being read on tape. At the same time, a volunteer standing close-by asked them unrelated questions, at about the same volume.

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"How was your day?" said the volunteer.

"Huh?" was the reply from student after student who participated in the experience.

For that moment, they got to experience what loud, indistinguishable sounds were like for kids diagnosed with certain disorders.

"The theme here is 'We're all different, We're all the same,'" said parent and organizer Tracey Gerhardt. "We hope kids gain a little compassion, a little understanding and see a disability as just one aspect of a person - not the whole person."

Across the gym, kids put on big, floppy, orange gloves and then tried to take-on the tiny buttons of a dress-shirt. The exercise simulates what it might be like for someone with difficulty with fine motor skills that someone with Down's Syndrome or autism might have.

A few feet away, kids tried to trace an image while only looking at a mirrored reflection, showing what it might be like for someone with dyslexia.

Nearby, children held a flexible plastic sheet in front of their faces while trying to walk a straight line taped on the floor. The plastic made the line on the floor seem blurry. That's what it might be like for a child with Down's or Asperger's syndrome.

And if you had Asperger's, one of the things you might feel is extreme sensitivity in both hearing and touch.

"This is what it feels like," said 8-year-old David to a classmate he touched on the back of the classmate's neck with special gloves that had scratchy fingertips.

David's parents want you to know that Asperger's does not define him. Their son is a great chess player. He's extremely bright. He's loving. He can take apart and put together just about anything electronic. He's a whole person. A person his classmates at John Muir understand a little better now.