Helping Children Understand Disability

Helping Children Understand Disability

Children are incredibly inquisitive. From a young age, if they see something they don’t understand they will often ask “What’s that?” without a moment’s pause. “Why?” Will become a key part of their regular vocabulary. However, it can be daunting for parents when their kids start asking questions about more difficult subject matter, like disabilities.

Often, a child’s candor can make adults uncomfortable. But the key is to answer their questions honestly. Instead of shying away from a potentially uncomfortable conversation, discuss the reality of the matter openly and honestly.

But how do you go about discussing disabilities with your children? And helping them understand why differences aren’t a bad thing?

Everyone’s A Little Bit Different

Naturally inquisitive, especially at a young age, children will notice when something’s different than they’re used to. When they see people in public who may look or behave differently than they do or than their parents do, they may ask why that is. It’s important to answer their questions simply. If your child asks “Mommy, why does that boy look that way?” while directing her attention to a boy with a visible disability, answer honestly, but avoid a long, detailed explanation with a lot of emotion. Sticking to matter-of-fact answers gives your child all the information they need while showcasing that there is nothing negative about their disability, and nothing they should feel ashamed of.

It’s also important for kids to recognize that everyone’s a little bit different. So the boy down the street needs to use a wheelchair, or Mr. Barker is hearing impaired. Their differences also produce a wealth of strengths to learn from.

We All Have Things In Common

While children will notice the differences between people, and what makes us stand apart, it’s important to call their attention to the similarities, as well. Sometimes those are physical similarities, like hair, eyes, limbs, but sometimes that’s not the case. But we all have feelings, enjoy certain activities, like to have fun, and love our families. In teaching them about the obvious and less obvious things they have in common with those with disabilities, it helps build a greater understanding of what disabilities really are. It teaches your child empathy and understanding.

Use the Right Terminology

In teaching our children about disabilities, it’s important to use appropriate language. Avoid saying things like “wrong” or “sick”. Sentences like “there’s something wrong with that boy’s brain” or “that woman is sick, so that’s why she needs a wheelchair” create the impression that differently abled people are somehow less than, dysfunctional, or, as the term suggests, wrong in some way. Using proper language and teaching them how to speak correctly about disabilities also helps teach them empathy and understanding. This is also a great way to teach them that bullying is wrong and that the words we choose can have very negative effects on people we love, friends, and even strangers. It’s never too early to teach children that their words matter, and why that is.

The most important thing about teaching your children about disabilities is that you don’t have to have all the answers. Very few people actually do. But that doesn’t mean they can’t ask tough questions. It’s just a matter of how you decide to explain things to them.


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