"Empathy through Understanding"

Empathy through Understanding: The Intersection of Disability Advocacy, Neuroscience, and Catholic Social Teaching

Kelly Heiniger '18

Neuroscience and Behavior Major, CST Minor

Advisor: Professor Bill Purcell

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“…Realizing the unique gifts disabled individuals have to offer the Church, we wish to address the need for their fuller integration into the Christian community and their fuller participation in its life.” - Pastoral Statement of US Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities

My project aims to increase disability awareness and literacy among middle school students. I did this by editing an existing disability awareness curriculum and creating a series of educational presentations with a particular focus on the traits and potential biological causes of different disabilities. Increasing disability awareness in middle school students directly impacts how these children engage with peers who might have any number of disabilities. With increased knowledge about how disabilities affect an individual, these lesson plans encourage the recognition of the innate dignity of each individual, regardless of their disability status. My goal is to educate students about the biological explanations behind these disorders so that they might come to see disabilities like ADHD, Specific Learning Disorder, and Cerebral Palsy much in the same way they might see any physical condition. The Catholic Social Teaching focus of this project centers on the call to community and a focused effort to fully engage people with disabilities in community at all ages. With increased awareness about the dignity of all persons, including those with disabilities, I expect the material from this curriculum will positively impact how middle school students engage with those who might look or act different in their classrooms.

“[The Church] must work to increase the public’s sensitivity toward the needs of persons with disabilities and support their rightful demand for justice.” - Pastoral Statement of US Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities