One in five Queenslanders have some form of disability, although the type and degree will vary immensely. Odds are, each and every one of us is close to someone with a disability. It may be a family member. Or a friend, a neighbour, a colleague, a child’s classmate.

This is why it’s so crucial that we all understand how to support the members in our community who may have special needs.

The little things make a big difference and this is especially the case when showing our support. Below are a few things we all could be incorporating into our day to day lives to help make the world a more inclusive, more accepting place, especially for our next generation.

1. Don’t shy away

Say hello. Smile. Be warm and welcoming to everyone. Don’t treat children or families with disabilities any differently than others in the community. This can be isolating for the family or individual.

2. Be aware and considerate of all abilities

Remember, not all disabilities are visible. Many people struggle on the inside, with mental disabilities, learning disabilities and communication disorders. So before you judge, take a step back and consider that there may be more than meets the eye.

3. Look beyond words

There are many ways to communicate including sign language, gestures, body language, language boards, writing and much more.

4. Consider a quick lesson in sign language

This isn’t just beneficial to those who may use sign language, but you as well. Learning another language, even if it’s just a few simple phrases, can be incredibly rewarding. You’re never too old to learn something new.

5. Leave those disabled parking spots alone

Don’t assume that no one will need it or that you’ll only be a few minutes.

6. Practise patience

We’re programmed to go, go go. But we need to be aware that it can take those with special needs a little longer when it comes to communication and moveability.

7. Be considerate of all disabilities, including allergies

Having severe allergies can be debilitating for the family. Often children with allergies will feel left out due to this condition. If you are planning a party, make sure you consider everyone’s dietary requirements. Don’t be afraid to ask the parents so that you can ensure you’ve got foods that everyone can enjoy together.

8. Consider their wants

Children and adults with disabilities want the same thing we all want – to be included, to be invited, to be accepted, to be valued, to be welcomed, to be supported and to be cared for, to be needed and to be loved. If you keep these basic wants in mind when meeting people of all abilities, then you are helping more than you may realise.

9. Don’t pity

Yes, living with special needs can be different. But there are so many positives. Some days are harder than others and if you do notice a friend or even a stranger, struggling, don’t offer pity. Instead, offer your support and assistance. Offer to listen, to buy them a coffee, to be a shoulder to cry on if they need.

10. Be open with your children

It is our responsibility to teach our kids how to act appropriately in all situations. Talk to your kids about how we all learn and act differently and how this is okay. Be honest about special needs and make an effort to teach your children about the different disabilities. The more they know, the more they are aware and the more comfortable they will feel.Advice from our PakMag mums:

Townsville mum, Jess Balestrin, shares some beautiful words for us to remember. Jess is mum to Ava, 4, who has Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), a type of brain injury. She tells PakMag,

“Please remember that our kids are just like yours. They want to play and be seen. When you tell your child not to stare at the supermarket, or not to touch at the park, I know you mean well, I do, but it breaks my heart. This is a wonderful opportunity to talk to your child about disability, and to make mine feel ‘seen’. When your kiddo is staring, tell them to wave and say hello!”

Mackay mum, Lori Punzell, whose little girl Lexi has Down Syndrome adds,
“We never knew quite what to say when we met kids with a disability before we had Lexi. Now we do. Don’t be scared, be kind. Smile, let your kids say hello. You could end up making a child’s day.”