Teaching Disability Awareness to Fourth Graders (Boston Children's Hospital)

This article was written by Carol Wilkinson, MD PhD, DBP Fellow at Boston Children's Hospital.

December 22, 2016

Every fall, the Boston Children's Hospital Division of Developmental Medicine fellows in Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics and Pediatric Psychology partner with the Brookline Public Schools (MA) to teach fourth graders about various disabilities. Fellows are trained in a hands-on curriculum and then spend several mornings implementing the curriculum to educate children about people with physical, sensory, or developmental disabilities. Understanding Our Differences is an interactive disability awareness curriculum that teaches children to "see the person and not the disability." Taught over several weeks, the activities harness a child's innate curiosity and desire to understand differences, coupled with lessons of how to engage with and respect peers with disabilities, the program focuses on acceptance in an inclusive world. 

During the Deaf and Hard of Hearing week, students practiced signing with each other, learned the sign language alphabet, and tried communicating through lip reading. When learning about physical disabilities, we think about how environmental modifications make the world accessible and safe for everyone. The curriculum includes directions and materials to facilitate the sessions. After the end of a busy morning, moving from one activity to the next, students regroup to hear first hand from a guest speaker experiencing the disability focus of that day. This year, a local high school student came educate us about being deaf and hard of hearing. The students listened, they used signs to show respect - shaking their hands for applause, and they asked questions - "Do you like music?", "How do you know what your teacher is saying?", and of course "Who is your favorite player on the Patriots?" The day when we learned about the Spectrum of Vision, Haben Girma (https://habengirma.com) joined the classes to inform and inspire us. As the first deaf blind graduate of Harvard Medical School, Ms. Girma, with her assistive technology and guide dog, mesmerized the students, teachers, fellows, vice principal, principal, and school superintendent!

Over the course of the last three years, the Understanding Our Differences curriculum has become a highlight of the fourth graders' year - often talked about with anticipation during the weeks preceding. For Boston Children's Hospital Fellows, it is also a highlight - providing opportunity to teach within our community, and learn hands-on the rewards and challenges of teaching in the classroom setting.