Living in a wheelchair is difficult. Children and teens who use wheelchairs often have a hard time making friends. Yet, having at least one good friend is essential for good mental health.
Other children can be afraid of someone in a wheelchair because they do not understand or are fearful that they might become disabled, too. Rudy Sims, a friend I met through social networking, says that he is “willing to answer any questions about [his] disability because [he’s] always believed that helping people understand reduces fear.” He adds that, “understandably that is not something everyone with a disability wants to do.”
You can follow and learn from Rudy Sims on Twitter via @disability.
A recent posting to a help site asks, “How do I go about making friends? I mean I know how, but in my situation [requiring a wheelchair] I realize I’m not really anything that anyone wants.”
This is a heartbreaking statement, and it is simply not true. Everyone has something to offer, and children who do not have disabilities need to realize that a wheelchair does not mean anything about who the person really is.
Parents can help their children accept all people and to be less fearful of someone in a wheelchair. Parents of children in wheelchairs can teach their child the basics of how to make a friend. Some of the following tips are from Women’s and Children’s Health Network of Australia:
- Smile! Practice smiling and speaking to those you meet. Nothing warms the heart like a big smile.
- Choose someone you think you could be a friend with. It should be someone who shares similar interests, if possible.
- Ask them questions about themselves. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Questions like—Where do you live? Do you play sports? What is your favorite subject? What kind of music do you like? What is your favorite TV show?—might be places to start.
- Be a good listener and really care about what they are saying.
- Respond to the questions they ask you. Try to be positive and talk about some good things in your life. (If you become close friends, you can later tell them about some of the hardships you experience, but not when you are first making a new friend.)
Parents or aides may need to assist children with this process. Young children especially may not be able to initiate the conversation. With a little help from you, they can learn to make friends on their own. Remember, resilient children need to have at least one good friend.