An Enabled Discipleship

Strategies for Working with Children with Motor Impairments or Orthopedic Disabilities


Children with motor or orthopedic impairments will require special attention. Naturally, children with physical impairments should be made to feel welcome, but we should also look around and assess points of welcome, as well as the design of our learning centers and prayer spaces.

Motor or orthopedic impairments include a heterogeneous grouping of conditions with a wide range of causes. Sometimes knowledge of the cause of the disability can help determine the best way to accommodate the child’s needs in the classroom setting. Among the more common causes of these disabilities are nervous-system disorders, spinal-cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular-skeletal disorders, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, respiratory disorders, emphysema, asthma, diabetes, and various types of amputations.

Families of children with these disabilities can help you understand their child’s impairment and the degree of limitation it causes. Together, you and the child’s family can assess how to accommodate the child’s individual needs. Following are some strategies to consider:

  • Speak confidentially with children who have physical impairments to discuss their functional difficulties and needs and to talk about ways to accommodate their needs.
  • Be aware that a child who is able to walk with the aid of a cane, a brace, or crutches might also need to use a wheelchair. It does not mean that he or she is feigning the degree of disability. Using a wheelchair may be a means to conserve energy or to move about more quickly.
  • Let the child know that you are available to help him or her and to tell you when/if assistance is needed.
  • Don’t lean on a child’s wheelchair. The chair is a part of the personal space of the child.
  • Encourage children who use crutches or canes to keep them within easy reach and make such a space available.
  • Don’t push a wheelchair unless you are asked to do so.
  • Have custodians use non-skid floor polish.
  • Keep floors clear of liquids and mop up thoroughly any spills that may occur.
  • If writing is difficult for the child, allow him or her to use a tape recorder for later transcription by the child’s parent, sibling, or friend.
  • Speak directly to the child with a disability just as you would other children.
  • When it appears that a child needs help, ask if you can help. Accept a “no, thank-you” graciously.
  • If you need to speak for more than a few minutes to a child in a wheelchair, sit down or kneel to put yourself at the child’s eye level.
  • Arrange for the child to have access to a parking space that is accessible and close to the building.
  • Plan any field trips with an eye toward accessibility.
  • Using words like “walking” or “running” is appropriate. Sensitivity to these words is not necessary because children who use wheelchairs use the same words.
  • Be familiar with the building’s emergency-evacuation plan to make sure it is manageable for the physically impaired child.
  • Arrange for the use of table-type desks with adequate leg space and enough clearance for wheelchairs.

Children with physical disabilities feel important when welcomed and valued in the same manner as their peers. How we interact with children who have motor or orthopedic impairments is fundamental to their growth as disciples of Jesus.