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What should I know about working with individuals with disabilities?

If you’ve never worked with an individual with a disability, it’s not uncommon to approach the person and present a question to his parent, spouse or friend or caregiver sitting next to him rather than directly to the individual with the disability. This is an instinct that we have to overcome. Showing respect to the individual with the disability is paramount. Take the time to ask the question directly. Also note that the answers you get will give you direction as to how you can adapt to accomplish the task at hand.

Parents and guardians: Overprotective parents can create fear in a child whose only disability is blindness. If these parents do everything for the blind child, the child may never learn to be independent and may lack confidence to take on challenges when he or she gets older.

Social isolation and sedentary activity: A majority of children and adults with disabilities lead sedentary lifestyles. Persons born with a disability will generally have led a life where adaptation comes naturally, yet they may still lead isolated or sedentary lives. A person who acquires a disability must first accept the loss of ability or abilities and the associated challenges, and then learn to adapt to a new reality. These people tend to respond more negatively. One’s identity has a lot to do with how one handles his disability. A child growing up having to use a wheelchair or walker will tend to be better adjusted and accepting of who he is and his abilities than someone who suddenly loses mobility due to a traumatic event, accident or injury.

Depression and suicide: There is also a greater incidence of depression, anger, alcoholism, drug abuse, resentment and suicide among individuals with disabilities, especially traumatic disabilities. Suicide is the most dramatic avenue of escape as the individual gives up or chooses not to live because he or she perceives him- or herself to be a burden to family or friends.

Anger: There are three words that sum up what you will need to have when working with individuals who have not fully accepted or adjusted to their disability. They are patience, understanding and compassion.

Peer Pressure: Peer pressure can lead a person to evaluate himself by comparing his ability to perform a skill against that of a person without disabilities. This can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Be prepared to set expectations and watch for external influences that will affect the individual's perceptions and your own.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.