Children are naturally curious about the things they see in their everyday lives, especially if it’s something they haven’t come across before. They want to ask questions and often do so openly and without a filter.
Their eagerness to learn is to be encouraged, of course – but there are times when a little sensitivity is needed. This is especially true when they encounter people with disabilities, be it a child at school with a speech impediment, or a stranger on public transport in an Allied Mobility wheelchair.
But it never needs to become an issue you have to skirt around or ignore. Read our simple tips on how to talk to your children about disabilities.
Use respectful terminology
Even if you don’t feel they pay attention sometimes, your child is likely to listen to you more than most. Take care in how you describe disability if you don’t do already. Be it ‘crippled’ or ‘retarded’, many terms you may have used or heard in the past are now outdated and offensive.
Those with special needs are more likely to be targets of name-calling or jokes. If you think your child has picked up a derogatory term elsewhere, make it clear why it’s unacceptable and suggest different language to use instead.
Emphasise what they have in common
Children can be unsure around people who look or act differently to them. That’s why it’s important to emphasise that a disability is merely one characteristic, and that a disabled person can share many of the same experiences or interests as your child regardless.
They may be able to enjoy the same activities for example – just with extra assistance or at a slower pace. Most children simply want to make friends, and introducing these commonalities is a great way to break down any aversion to difference.
Address their curiosity
It’s important not to shut your child down when they ask questions about disability. Even when out in public or a busy environment, telling them to be quiet or ignore something can do more damage than good.
Simple and matter-of-fact answers often work best. Rather than going into lengthy, scientific detail to explain why a person is in a wheelchair for example, explain to your child that their legs or body are different and don’t allow them to walk in the same way as them.
Understanding disability as a child is ultimately a learning process, so follow the tips above and see what else is out there. You may even find your school or local community offers a disability-awareness programme.
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