|Handicapped children are normal, too
By CANDY REAGAN /
Abilene Families Editor
Children who are disabled or have chronic illnesses want a life that is as normal as possible, and the general public can help make that happen.
These children and their parents dream of a society in which it is no big deal to see a handicapped child or a child with medical wires hanging from their arms, nose and throat -- a society where those children can play right alongside “normal” children.
Over the years, society has moved closer to that dream.
But there is still work to be done.
“We have a fear of children who are sick or that have a physical abnormality. It’s not so much discrimination as a fear,” said Keith Loftin, executive director of The House That Kerry Built. “You don’t really know what to say. I don’t know the answer to getting over the fear.”
One thing that will help is exposure.
“The more exposure, the more common it becomes, the more desensitization – for lack of a better term,” Loftin said. “A lot of it boils down to education.”
Loftin was the father of a medically fragile child, Stephanie, who died last year at the age of 17. He said his family endured stares and whispers when they would go out in public with Stephanie, who was confined to a wheel chair. And sometimes other children could be mean.
But for the most part, that was the exception.
“I never got angry at people who I knew were simply ignorant,” Loftin said. “They never have been exposed to it. Children were not so much fearful as they were curious.
“We got the stares. We got the outside comments,” he said. “For the most part, people were very supportive. Everywhere in Abilene we went someone knew Stephanie.”
One of the strides that has been made is integrating handicapped children into normal classrooms as much as possible. Major Hollenbeck attended Locust Head Start and Bassetti Elementary and will go to Wylie this fall. Marina Romero attended College Heights Elementary and will be going to Franklin Middle School this fall.
Both Kimberly Hollenbeck and Mary Romero said they want their children to be in normal classes as much as possible, although both realize that mental handicaps limit them from being in the classroom the entire day. Bottom line, they want their children to have every opportunity in life, just like most parents feel about their children.
“He needs to be in a class. He can learn,” Kimberly said of Major. “He deserves to be in regular classes. My child is no different than any child, and he will get every opportunity. They do need to be treated the same as any child.”
Integration into the classroom not only allows the handicapped child to feel like a normal child, but it exposes the “normal” children to a child with a handicap and helps them realize that handicapped children aren’t all that different from other kids.
“I see them look at disabled children like it’s a disease that you can catch,” Hollenbeck said. “Yeah, they drool. Big deal. If you take time to get to know them, they are beautiful people. They are not lepers. They are so wonderful. I just wish everybody would see that.”
Loftin said every person in the world is different in some way, and handicapped children are just part of the melting pot of individuals that make up society.
“They are as essential to society as anyone else,” Loftin said. “There is a reason for them being here.
Stephanie taught me what that reason was. She taught me the true meaning of unrequited love.”