INCLUDING DISABLED CHILDREN
Introduction to Part Six
Helping Children Respond Creatively
to the Needs and Rights of the Disabled Child
Part Six of this book focuses on Child-to-Child
activities, where disabled and non-disabled children interrelate and
learn from each other through play, work, joint adventures, and creative
About CHILD-TO-CHILD and Discovery-Based Learning
Child-to-Child is an innovative educational methodology in which
school-age children learn ways to protect the health and well-being of
other children, especially those who are younger or have special needs.
Child-to-Child was launched during the International Year of the
Child, 1979. It is now used in more than 60 developing countries, as
well as in Europe, the USA, and Canada. Many early Child-to-Child
activities were developed in Project Piaxtla in Mexico, the villager-run
health care program that gave birth to PROJIMO. Key to this adventurous
approach was Martín Reyes Mercado, a village health promoter who worked
with Piaxtla, and then with PROJIMO, for 2 decades. Martín now works
with CISAS in Nicaragua, facilitating Child-to-Child throughout Latin
CHILD-TO-CHILD FOR DISABLED CHILDREN
Children can be either cruel or kind to the child who is
different. Sometimes it takes only a little awareness-raising for a
group to shift from cruelty to kindness. One of Child-to-Child's goals
is to help non-disabled children understand disabled children, be their
friends, include them in their games, and help them to overcome
difficulties and become more self-reliant.
To give school-aged children an experience of what it is like to have
a disability, a few of them can be given a temporary handicap.
To simulate a lame leg, a stick is tied to the leg of the fastest runner
in the class, to give him a stiff knee. Then the children run a race and
the "lame" child comes in last. The facilitator asks this temporarily
handicapped child what it feels like to be left behind.
Finally, all the children try to think of games they can play where a
child with a lame leg can take part without experiencing any handicap:
for example marbles or checkers.
A variety of activities can also be designed to help children
appreciate the strengths and abilities of the disabled child,
rather than to just notice their weaknesses. For this, skits or
role-plays can be helpful. Here is an example.
Various role plays, games, and activities to sensitize children to
the feelings and abilities of children with different disabilities can
be found in the Child-to-Child chapter in the book, Disabled Village
Children (see page 343).
The need to include disabled children in activities concerning
Many examples of Child-to-Child activities have been discussed in
two of the author's earlier books: Helping Health Workers Learn
and Disabled Village Children. (See more complete references
to these books on pages 339 and
|Some of the activities focus on
what children can do to prevent accidents.
|The books also suggest enjoyable ways
in which school children can test the vision and hearing
of those who are beginning school, as well as things they can do
so that the handicapped child can participate and learn more
Unfortunately, in many countries, disability-related Child-to-Child
activities are frequently conducted in ways that do not include
disabled children in central or leading roles. Too often activities
are about disabled children, not with them.
In Child-to-Child events led by PROJIMO, disabled children often
play a central role. They make it a point to involve school-aged
children - disabled and non-disabled together - as helpers and
volunteers, and as "agents of change" among their peers.
Child-to-Child, at its best, introduces teaching methods
that are learner-centered and "discovery-based," not
authoritarian. It encourages children to make their own observations,
draw their own conclusions, and take appropriate, self-directed
action. This problem-solving approach emphasizes cooperation
rather than competition.
PROJIMO makes an effort to get disabled children into normal
schools. It uses Child-to-Child activities to help both school
children and teachers appreciate and build on the strengths of
disabled children. It designs activities to address the needs,
barriers, and possibilities of individual disabled children in the
school and community setting.
Disabled activists - some of whom are disabled school children -
often take the lead in this process.
Encouraging Disabled and Non-Disabled Children to Play and
Two of the ways that PROJIMO encourages interaction between
non-disabled and disabled children are the Playground for All
Children and the Children's Toy-Making Workshop.
A great playground - but NO CHILDREN! The idea for
making a low-cost rehabilitation playground came from a refugee camp
in Thailand. That playground had a wide range of fine equipment, made
with bamboo ... But when the author visited the playground, there was
one big problem: NO CHILDREN! The playground was surrounded by a high
fence with a locked gate. The reason, the manager explained, was that
the local, non-disabled children used to play there, and constantly
broke the equipment. So the local kids were locked out. Too often,
however, so were the disabled children!
A Playground for ALL Children. To avoid such a
problem, PROJIMO, in Mexico, invited local school children to help
build and maintain a playground, with the agreement that they could
play there too. The children eagerly volunteered, and the playground
has led to an active integration of disabled and non-disabled kids.
|Making therapy functional and
fun. When a piece of equipment in the playground seems to
provide a child with helpful exercises, he or she is encouraged to
play on it. And because it is easy to build with cheap local
materials, the family can make one at home.
Good Ideas Spread. The idea of a Playground
for All Children has spread to other villages. Here disabled and
non-disabled children from Ajoya, where PROJIMO is located, help
children in another town make their own playground.
THE CHILDREN'S TOY-MAKING WORKSHOP
The children's toy-making workshop at PROJIMO serves a number of
purposes. It helps disabled young people to develop manual dexterity
and useful skills. It attracts local school children to come make
fascinating playthings together with disabled children. And it
provides a supply of simple, attractive, early-stimulation toys and
wooden puzzles. These are useful for children who are developmentally
delayed or who need to develop hand-eye coordination. The sale of some
of the playthings also brings in a modest income.
The toy shop is coordinated by teen-age village girls and disabled
young women, who produce high-quality toys themselves and who guide
the work of the younger children. They have an agreement with the
local children: the first toy a child makes goes to a disabled child
who needs it. The second toy she makes can be taken home for a younger
brother or sister. (After all, early stimulation toys and activities
enhance the development of any young child. This way, the process of
children helping children - Child-to-Child - extends into the wider
A school girl uses a rattle made in the toy-shop to help a
multiply-disabled child respond to different stimuli and to use his
eyes, ears, and hands. (Left)
A wide range of toys and playthings are made. Some of the simplest
toys are rattles and brightly colored objects that can be shaken or
hung in front of a baby or a child whose development is slow. (Right)
Other play-things include toys and games for the development of
manual coordination, for learning relative sizes, shapes, and colors,
and for learning numbers and letters.
|The toy-makers also produce a
wide variety of wooden puzzles, from simple to complex, to match
the abilities and needs of different children.
||When a disabled child first
comes to PROJIMO, she is invited to play with puzzles or toys to
help her to relax and know that people care. It also helps the
worker evaluate the child's mental, physical, and social
||Lluvia - daughter of PROJIMO's
disabled leader, Mari - teaches an older boy to use a toy, for
better hand control. Brain-damaged from meningitis, the boy is
mentally slow (but very friendly). He makes little use of his
spastic left hand. To remove the colorful rings from the toy, he
needs to rotate them past small pegs on the upright post. This
helps him gain more skill with his hands. Lluvia makes it fun.
Like her mother, she is a good teacher.
CHILDREN HELP WITH THERAPY AND EQUIPMENT
After school and on weekends, some of the school children not only
work in the toy-shop, but they also help disabled children with
exercises, play, and other activities. Sometimes a school child will
help make a wooden walker or special seat for a disabled child, and
then become involved in helping that child learn to use the equipment.
Children are encouraged to play with their
disabled brothers and sisters, and to teach them how to help with
exercises, stimulation, and skills-learning activities.
Standing behind Jésica (with the walker), a
school-girl called Gordi holds little Toni. Born with club feet,
Toni spent several months at PROJIMO. (His mother had troubles and
could not care for her child.) Gordi became very attached to Toni,
and Toni to Gordi. Gordi bathed Toni, dressed him, and in a
playful way helped with stretching exercises for his hands and
A therapist visiting PROJIMO, Ann Hallum,
teaches the older brother of a girl who is disabled by polio how
to do stretching exercises to correct a hip contracture. Many
children are taught in this way to be "therapy assistants."
CHILDREN ADAPT A SPECIAL SEAT FOR A CHILD WITH A VERY LARGE HEAD
JACINTO was born with spina bifida (see
page 131) and hydrocephalus, a
condition where liquid in the brain makes the head very large.
Jacinto's mother, Cata, brought him to PROJIMO for rehabilitation,
then decided to stay and work there for several months. Having a
disabled child of her own, she was very able and loving with other
Juán, a disabled craftsman, made Jacinto a special seat with wheels
so that Jacinto's mother, Cata, could push it. (She lived at the far
end of town.) It had a removable table to hold toys and food. Above
the table, Juán mounted a bar from which rattles and colorful toys
could be hung, to encourage Jacinto to use his eyes and hands and lift
But the design had a problem. The seat-back and
head-rest were both on the same plane, tilting back a little. For many
children this would be OK.
But Jacinto's head was so big that the head-rest bent his head
forward. This made it hard for him to keep his head upright. Because
the hydrocephalus caused his eyes to angle downward, it was impossible
for him to look up at the toys that were hanging in front of his face.
Solution. To allow Jacinto to lift his
head more, the head-rest needed to be positioned farther back (behind
the plane of the back-rest). Juán was busy on another project. So a
couple of school boys who often came to PROJIMO to fix their bikes and
help with odd jobs, offered to make the adjustments. They cut a
rectangle out of the part of the seat back that supported Jacinto's
head and mounted it further back by adding bits of wood on either
Then they put Jacinto in the seat. What a difference! Now he could
lift his head and see the world around him. He could look at the toys
hanging in front of him. The boy reached out to play with them.
The two "junior rehab technicians" felt proud that they had been
able to help. They were eager to help more.
Disabled Child to Disabled Child
PROJIMO is based on a give-and-take approach, where disabled
persons help and learn from each other. Peer assistance can -
and often does - start quite young. A child with a disability
not only tends to better understand the needs, feelings, hopes and
fears of another disabled child, but can also be an excellent
Several examples of ways that disabled children assist, teach, and
care for each other have been seen in previous chapters.
Chapter 32, for example, shows how
CARLOS, a boy who has a combined physical, visual and
mental handicap, helped another boy, Alonzo, learn to
Part 6 of Nothing About Us
Without Us tells a number of stories about ways that disabled
children assist one another. In such relationships, often both the
receiver and the giver of assistance benefit greatly.
Chapter 45 describes JESÚS,
a boy with spina bifida who is also nearly blind. Jesús was first
helped by his classmates, through Child-to-Child activities, to be
accepted and treated more fairly by his teacher. Later, Jesús himself
becomes a facilitator of Child-to-Child, helping two children with
muscular dystrophy in another village to be appreciated and assisted
by their classmates.
Chapter 46 tells how JORGE,
a boy in a wheelchair, helps MANOLO, a mentally slow
but physically strong teenager, to speak and act for himself. After
his integration into PROJIMO, Manolo takes pride in assisting
physically impaired children. Then a friendship develops between
Manolo and LUIS, who has cerebral palsy but is
mentally bright. By bringing together the brawn of Manolo and the
brains of Luis, the two indulge in adventures which neither could have
accomplished on his own.
47 tells of how VANIA, a spirited 9-year-old girl
with a spinal-cord injury, provides nursing care and friendly
companionship to 6-year-old JÉSICA, who is similarly
Chapter 48 shows how the remarkable
Peraza family - with 4 children who have muscular dystrophy, including
SÓSIMO - plays a leading role in a program run for
and by disabled young people.
Another of these 4 children, DINORA, studies
English with a disabled young teacher, so that she, in turn, can teach
her disabled friends.
Chapter 49 explains how
FERNANDO, a boy with cerebral palsy, is helped by
MANUEL and other playmates to learn a variety of skills and
to gain greater self-confidence.
Chapter 50 describes how
MARIA, a mentally handicapped girl in Brazil, learns to
provide care and therapy for EMA, a multiply disabled