Children with Special Needs: The Power of Imagination
Hannah graduated in 2020 with her master's degree in social justice. She obtained her undergraduate degree in communication at Elmhurst University in 2012. She is a motivational speaker as well as an advocate for individuals who have disabilities. In her free time, she enjoys reading, studying the Bible in a young adult group, and serving on the Elmhurst University Alumni Engagement Board. She is currently seeking meaningful employment as a writer.
Play gives kids a chance to truly let their imaginations run wild and create worlds of their own that they have control over. Whether it’s a make-believe game or an arts & crafts activity, play provides children the freedom to explore new possibilities and think outside the box … to come up with unique ideas as well as creative solutions to challenges they face.
An active imagination will continue to serve kids throughout their lives. According to a recent survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 33 industries around the world, CEOs believe that successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity more than any other skill. And playtime is where it begins!
Can your child who has a disability change the world? Yes! It might seem impossible if your child cannot perform basic tasks but as a grown woman with a disability, Hannah Thompson knows first-hand that any child has the capability to make an impact. It all began with imaginative play.
Hannah shares how imaginative play was instrumental in not only her own development but also her understanding of feeling like she could change the world.
As a very young child, I was fortunate enough to have a toy library for children with special needs and their families, so families could borrow toys like they did books at a traditional library. I have fond memories of playing with my little brother at this toy library. My dad and I played basketball. If I played independently, I chose Disney princess stampers. They were tall so you could use my whole whole hand to grasp them and when I stamped, they made a princess, "twinkling" sound. I don’t know why I played with those specifically but if I had to guess, the sound probably made me feel important because of my imagination. They were tall and easy for me to hold but were typical toys sold in a store and they allowed me to make a mark on paper that was a true image because it stamped a princess face. This was my way to make an impression and I could envision signing important documents. It is very possible that the four-year-old version of myself was imagining signing important documents with these stampers. Being able to imagine myself in the future played a critical role in my life. If I felt important in play, I could feel important elsewhere.
I am in my early thirties as I write this. I have gone on to high school, college, and have received my master's degree. I crashed through the challenges of Cerebral Palsy and dystonia, a neurological movement disorder. I received my bachelor's degree in communications from Elmhurst University and then went on to receive my master's degree in social justice from Loyola University. While studying at both institutions, I was asked how could I make the world a better place? This is a question I find myself answering as I learn about myself every day. I have gifts and talents that nobody else has; I was created to be uniquely me. I have to help the world in a way that only I can. Thinking back, I used my imagination to find many of these answers.
Imagination is the key to many of life’s answers. Before I went to college and managed caregivers independently, I had to imagine what that looked like. The reality of living independently with a disability can be harsh. However, it is a blend of good days, bad days, and everything in between. My imagination of future successes gets me through the bad days.
I started using my imagination as I played at the toy library. I am now a motivational speaker and aspiring author along with blogging about my life. Life is amazing! My ability to imagine myself living independently started with play. We underestimate how important imagination is but isn’t it how we end up fulfilling our dreams and changing the world?
How can we change the world? We can empower children to think about their future and what they want it to look like. Here are a few suggestions to help you empower your child to be think on their own, be creative and imaginative
- Give your child open-ended toys that require imagination and can become more than one item. For example, instead of a puzzle that only has one “right” solution, try building blocks that can be used to create a variety of different structures.
- Join in your child’s pretend play! Take the role they assign you, whether it’s little sister, assistant chef, or rocket scientist. Studies show parents’ participation in their children’s pretend play is linked with social competence.
- Resist the pressure to schedule your child’s every moment. Providing time for unstructured free play encourages them to engage in rich pretend play, which builds executive function skills.
- Providing explicit instructions to be creative is helpful for everyone but particularly for older children. As children age, they may experience peer pressure to fit in and not stand out. Inviting children to “be creative” prompts imagination and originality and inspires them to develop more novel or unique ideas.