One of the new children in my second grade class has cerebral palsy. The other day I saw a group of children imitating the child's movements and speech and laughing about it. I got angry at them and told them to stop, but what else can I do?
Telling the children that their behavior is hurtful and inappropriate is certainly in order, however, without explaining why, little learning will take place. You may want to design a unit on disabilities or use some of the materials that are available to teachers to help children learn accurate information about a variety of disabilities (e.g., Easter Seals). Sometimes adults with disabilities are available to come and speak to an individual class or to the entire school to help demystify disabilities for children. A teacher can also work with the parents of a child with a disability to find out how they and their child would like the disability to be addressed with the rest of the class. Some children may want to talk about it themselves, while others may prefer not to. To prevent a child from feeling singled out, it is helpful to include exploring disabilities as part of exploring diversity in general. Conversations about abilities throughout the year, as well as stories, books, artwork, and photographs by and about people with disabilities can help children feel more comfortable when they encounter someone whose abilities are obviously different from their own.