Many people worry about a child’s reaction to disability. A few years ago, parents wrote to the BBC about Children’s Presenter, Cerrie Burnell because of her missing limb.
Parents with able-bodied children stated that their child was having nightmares and asking difficult questions but parents with disabled children said it helped their child fit in at nursery or school. There are many news articles on the event.
However, I believe that children are more accepting than we are. Yes, they have questions, of course they do. They only become worried when we don’t answer their questions… because it must be bad if an adult won’t answer their question, right?
I’m not a parent myself, but I am an aunt to three children and have friends with their own children. None of them have felt sorry for me, scared or even too concerned. I would like to believe this is because their parents and I have included them into the view of disability.
Telling a child about a disability
Be honest with them as early as possible.
Since my niece and nephews were little (3, 4 years old) I and others have had conversations with them about my disability whenever questions popped up:
Auntie, why do you only use one hand?/ Why does Auntie Shannon use only one hand?
So we explain the best we can. If they ask me directly, I put both my hands together to show that one hand is smaller than the other, I ask can they see it and when they say yes, I tell them:
I call the smaller hand baby hand, because it has the strength of a baby.
My niece had her baby brother then, so she was fascinated how her brother couldn’t hold or pick up much and my hand was similar. Then she went on to the new thing and asked me the same question a year or two later.
My oldest nephew is similar, my brother has helped him to learn about my disability too. We went out as a family sometime in the summer, I had some plastic straws with me just in case the straw ban was in place at the restaurant.
All my nephew asked was do I use the straws because of my disability? When I said that was the case, he asked if it was because of not being able to lift the glass, which I said yes to again. His final question was why did I have 200 of them?
My other brother’s girlfriend told him so that the straw doesn’t get dirty out of the box.
Then he did a marvellous thing, he joked that there were 200 straws in the pack and started laughing about the fact I had 200 straws with me.
I honestly believe that telling the child the truth from the start helps them to accept it. They won’t have the vocabulary to understand everything when they are little, but you can use metaphor’s that they will understand, like my family and I did with baby hand (and baby leg). The older they get, the more detail you can add.
Get them involved
I try and involve my niece and nephews as much as possible when it comes to my disability, as well as my friend’s child. All of them seem interested in my adaptions, mostly the one attached to the steering wheel of my car.
A Lodgeston’s Lollipop. It controls everything but the headlights and a really useful adaptation.
They love how I can drive one handed. A couple of times, when the car is safely parked, I have let them press the buttons on the Lodgeston’s Lollipop. They love it, especially the window wipers and the screen wash.
Other adaptions, like my sologrip one-hand jar opener and my Nelson Knife catch their interest too. I think they like seeing how it works and whether it is any easier for them too.
Of course, my younger niece and nephew hasn’t had the chance to use my Sologrip jar opener due to their age as it could make child-locked bottles easier to open. So while I love getting them involved, I make sure it is safe to do so too.
It’s a great way to make them feel included and learn too.
No disabled member in the family
If you have no disabled member in the family or no friend who is disabled but your child has started to notice disability, do not worry. They may have questions that you feel you can’t answer, but there are ways around it.
Let’s say that your child sees a kid at school with a disability and doesn’t know how to interact with them. Tell your child to ask the other child questions about their disability. If they see a disabled person on the street, approach them with your child and ask if it is okay for your child to ask questions. Most disabled people will be willing to answer questions. I have never been approached by a stranger’s kid, but I was approached by teachers who didn’t know me at my school.
They would ask why I limped or why there was a “caste” on my arm, meaning my splint and often assumed that I had broken a bone or something. I explained that I have cerebral palsy, which often leaves the person asking the question apologising. Maybe they are apologising for the fact that I am disabled or apologising for asking the question, I never really know.
Either way, I don’t want someone approaching me to feel like they have to apologise as long as they are polite and the question is genuine. It is by asking questions that we learn. So please, if you have a question, ask it.
Some people may not feel comfortable answering, and that’s fine, but don’t let it put you off. Keep asking. Keep learning and encourage your children to do the same.
I hope you found this post useful and are able to find ways to help your child (or a friend/family member’s child) understand disability, good luck.
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