• Question: have any of you ever wondered what goes on behind the mind of those with disabilities/special needs person?

    Asked by playdead12345 on 13 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: David Wilson

      David Wilson answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      Yes, so I ask them.
      I’m the leader of a running group at my workplace. A colleague joined and told me they had Aspergers. I’ve never talked to anyone with Aspergers so it was really helpful for them to tell me about what it’s like for them. I could the adjust what we did as a running group and how I interacted with them to better suit their needs.

    • Photo: Shonna Johnston

      Shonna Johnston answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      My father-in-law had a stroke in his 50’s so was without use of his right side. However, before the stroke he played the fiddle and even after he was able to hold the violin and make the correct movements with his left hand, although he couldn’t hold the bow.
      He could even sing although he couldn’t talk much.
      He’d been quite big a personality before and this didn’t change as he was always able to communicate and show his feelings – he just did it without speech.
      It gave all his family and friends appreciation of just how well a person with disabilities can still understand and react to their environment.
      So I guess, I just assume that the minds of people with disabilities is no different to those without.

    • Photo: Rebecca Moon

      Rebecca Moon answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      This is such an important question. It’s really important that just because someone has a physical disability or difficulties with communication that we dont assume that they cant understand language or other forms of communication. When working with children with disabilities I always ask the parents how much their child can communicate and with what method, and still tell the child what I am doing or going to do. It’s really important.

    • Photo: Marianne King

      Marianne King answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      I do! Being a purely lab based researcher I don’t get to meet any people who live with the disease I’m working on, which is Rett Syndrome. It’s easy for lab researchers to become quite distanced from the people they want to help, and I often find myself wondering what it must be like for these girls living with Rett Syndrome. Sadly I don’t have any opportunity to ask them, especially as the patients whose cells I’m working on live in Canada!

    • Photo: Shobhana Nagraj

      Shobhana Nagraj answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      Yes, definitely. It is really important to be able to find out how others are feeling, and find ways to effectively communicate. In some of the areas I work, there are people who are unable to speak, read or write, but we often use pictures and drawings to communicate with each other.

    • Photo: Anabel Martinez Lyons

      Anabel Martinez Lyons answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      Probably one of my favourite question so far! As a few people below have written, it’s always most informative to talk with the person directly (if he or she is a stranger, this can be tricky, but if you’ve noticed someone in your school or town or community that you want to better understand, do go and say hello) and ask about them. A lot of the time people will happilly volunteer about their disability which is a great starting point, too. My brother had severe epilepsy as a child and teenager, and went to a special needs school that could cater him with 1-on-1 care and specific learning aids. His classmates (a lot of whom we still know well) identified as having several different types of complex needs and disabilities, and even though they may have needed assistance with some physical/verbal tasks, their interests/hobbies/dislikes were very similar to anyone elses’ our age. Also, one or two were exceptionally skilled in certain areas (arts/sports/maths, etc.).
      I also think it’s very telling that the art/work many disabled individuals can create is incredibly impressive and can be uniquely moving, too; just as an example, here are some groups of (self-defining) disabled artists, comedians, actors, directors and musicians: http://www.disabilityartsinternational.org/artists/.

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      As a person with a disability myself, I can say that what goes on behind my mind is pretty much the same as everyone elses!

      I think the other thing is that just as it intruiges people what goes on behind their minds, they can be just as intruiged about whats going on behind yours…

      I would definitely advocate as others have suggested below, just ask πŸ™‚

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 13 Jun 2019: last edited 13 Jun 2019 9:21 pm


      Thank you for asking this question – to be honest I assume people with disabilities or other special needs have pretty much the same thoughts and feelings as people that don’t (although I’m a firm believer that no two humans think in exactly the same way!). Some people might not be able to communicate how they feel in a way that I understand. That doesn’t make them bad communicators, it just means that their main forms of communication might be different to mine (if anything it highlights my weaknesses in languages, listening, and comprehension). For example, my grandfather had a stroke many years back and now finds it quite hard to express himself verbally, but his facial expressions tell me everything I need to know if I take care to look properly. I was lucky during my PhD to meet some incredible people that happened to have quite severe disabilities; Euan MacDonald MBE is an inspirational man with a brilliant mind (and addictive sense of humour) who co-founded the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research in Edinburgh – you can read more about MND research and Euan’s story here:
      http://www.euanmacdonaldcentre.org/about/euans-story
      Euan has been a trail blazer for MND Research since being diagnosed with the disease at age 29. He’s written a fantastic guide which is used by thousands of disabled people to review, share and discover accessible places to go:
      https://www.euansguide.com
      Euan communicates via a computerised voice aid and his work has helped to champion some really important research to enable people who are losing their voice through diseases like MND to retain the unique feature of their own voice – a really big part of our identity if we grow up communicating via speech. You can read more about this great work here (for what it’s worth, I donated my voice to the voicebank – this was so much fun!)
      http://www.euanmacdonaldcentre.org/research/research-case-studies/speakunique-voicebank-research

      As a vet, I am always challenged with trying to understand my patients who cannot ‘speak’ to me in the way that humans can. This pushes me to explore other ways of trying to understand their needs and feelings – the main thing you need for this is time.

      If you’re not sure if someone else wants to communicate with you or spend time with you, explore a different way of asking. Likewise, don’t rush to assume that someone needs your help just because they have a visible disability – ask first. Remember that some disabilities are not visible.

    • Photo: Rachel Hardy

      Rachel Hardy answered on 13 Jun 2019:


      I think that they still think similar to all of us – just maybe in slightly different ways. I volunteered at a special needs school in Morocco 2 years ago, and the children all enjoyed similar hobbies to any other child. For example, they loved playing in the swimming pool, learning dance routines and doing arts/crafts πŸ™‚

    • Photo: Ettie Unwin

      Ettie Unwin answered on 14 Jun 2019:


      Yes I do wander so I think it’s really important to ask them. I sat on an interview panel last week and it was interesting talking to the candidate about how best we could support them through the process and what changes we could make to accommodate what they needed.

    • Photo: Kaitlin Wade

      Kaitlin Wade answered on 14 Jun 2019:


      Yes, definitely. Mainly just so that I can understand if there is anything I can do to help them meet their needs. For example, one of my colleagues and actually one of my other friends is severly dyslexic so it takes them much longer than me to read through documentation. So, if they are having problems with communication or language, I would ask whether there is anything I can do to help or if there is a better/different way of doing something for them. It’s kind to help out someone when they are struggling, regardless of what disability or special needs they may have.

    • Photo: Kate Timms

      Kate Timms answered on 17 Jun 2019:


      Yes, quite a lot actually. When I was in college, my form was in a really small building that was just our form (the few who had chosen Archaeology as one of our A-levels) and the special needs class. We did quite a few events with them, and I always enjoying talking to them and having a laugh.
      I also myself have quite bad dyslexia and I know it means that not only do I have problems with spelling, but I also look at the world and experience it quite differently from those who aren’t dyslexic. It’s pretty mild as ‘disabilities’ go – though I would argue it’s closer to a super power! – but it did really affect me in school. It wasn’t diagnosed until university, so I was always in trouble in primary school for not knowing my times tables or passing my spelling tests. The teachers always assumed I didn’t do my homework by not learning them, so I was in detention nearly every day. In the end, I stopped trying to learn them. I was going to get punished anyway, so why bother wasting my time!

    • Photo: Thiloka Ratnaike

      Thiloka Ratnaike answered on 17 Jun 2019:


      I do! I always speak with the child during my consultations in hospital, even if they appear not to have any verbal skills because it is sometimes very unclear how much they might understand. Sometimes a severely disabled child may still pick up on the tones you use when you are discussing something with their parent and can become calmer as a result depending on how you interact with them! They all still experience the same emotions we would but have different ways of expressing these depending on their level of learning disability. It is a totally different set of communication skills which I am still trying to improve to be honest.

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