Bearing Disability: Educating Children

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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 Children about 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 by how her brother couldn’t hold or pick up much and my hand was similar. Then she went on to new things. Returning to ask me the same question a year or two later.

Nephew with a sense of humour

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.  

Don’t forget to follow

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. Have a look at some of my other posts.

Do feel free to also join my facebook group:

~ Shannon


Categories: Author, Bearing Disability, Shannon

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5 replies »

  1. Great post, Shannon. I agree that it’s important to educate children and people about disability. People who are different don’t have to be scary if kids are taught that people who are different are just like them on the inside. Sadly enough, plenty of adults were clearly never educated about disabilities. My peers with my disability tend to resent people who ask them about it and will say something sarcastic or even lie about it, but I never understood that. Whether it’s a child or an adult who is asking, and even if it seems abrupt or awkward, I still always take the opportunity to educate people if they ask.

    • Thank you for your comment Lily, yes, some people are like that. I’ve never understood it either. I can understand if the question is private and the person asking is a stranger, but a genuine question asked politely and appropriate, I don’t see the problem.

      I think some people are cynical and think the question might have another motive.

  2. I agree that children of all ages should ask questions this is how we learn to understand life as it is well done babes a lovely post well said it can happen to anybody’s families all over the world the more that they learn about all disabilities the better the world would be instead of being rude about anybody

  3. Thank you for this post. I agree, if people were educated about disabilities as children then the world would be a better place. Children just view the world with curiosity, sure they get a lot of their values from home. but all in all they are a blank slate.

    My sister regales in telling me the story of when I showed my grandmother a picture of me and my two best friends when I had started school. For context: They had moved to the area the year before and came from Somalia. I was so pale and blonde I was taken for being an albino. And I showed my grandmother the picture of the three of us and explained with a lot of flourish that ‘the one in the middle is me!’
    Children don’t really see differences as offputting or weird, provided they have had this ballast from home. They just see people as people.

    • I totally agree with you, it’s the same with any minority. Children don’t see race, or a “correct” sexuality, you tell them that something exists and they don’t think twice about it.

      There’s a beautiful line in Sophie’s World (the book review is on here somewhere) where the professor states that if a man and a young child saw another person flying, the man would be surprised, and probably react in unpredictable ways whereas the child would act as if everything is normal because the child’s view of the world is still developing. As far as the child is aware, a person flying is just as possible as a bird.

      I think that book hit the truth on the nose there

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