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Explaining Disability to Children

  • Publish Date : 2009/04/28 - (Rev. 2019/01/12)
  • Author : Thomas C. Weiss
  • Contact : Disabled World


Parents face a couple of situations where disabilities and children are concerned this article is about explaining disability to children.

Main Document

Parents face a couple of situations where disabilities and children are concerned; one involves questions from their children regarding other people who experience disability, the other situation involves the experience of disability either on the part of the parent, or on the part of the child.

Children are wonderful for many reasons - one of these reasons is because by nature they have very open hearts and minds. Childhood is perhaps the best time to create an understanding of the fact that people with disabilities need to be perceived as people first.

There are some steps that parents can follow in order to develop an understanding of disability and people who experience it in their children; these steps include:

  • Listen to what your child is saying.
  • Let your child voice any fears they may have, and ask questions.
  • View the situations your child presents from their perspectives.
  • Be truthful with your child, keeping your answers to them age-appropriate.
  • Explain disability to them at a level they can understand.
  • Satisfy their curiosity; let them sit in a wheelchair if they want to, for example.
  • Stress positive factors; for example - use of a wheelchair enhances a person's mobility.
  • Keep in mind that children many times take upon themselves unnecessary responsibility for situations.
  • Stress both family unity and loyalty.
  • Be sure to spend extra time with your children.
  • Encourage your children to help in making your home more accessible.
  • Remind your children that everything changes except the love that is shared within the family.

People with disabilities are a part of societies around the world.

In America alone we comprise approximately one-fifth of the population, representing a wide-variety of forms of disability. People with disabilities are involved in nearly every kind of occupation imaginable, to include some very public occupations. Richard, who lost his eyesight as a teenager, is the founder of Enable America. The goal of Enable America is to eliminate significant barriers to employment of Persons with Disabilities, enhance civic involvement of us in this nation, as well as our social inclusion. Richard believes that good things happen when people have jobs; I couldn't agree more. People with Disabilities who are employed have greater opportunity to participate in society on all levels.

The BBC has a children's Television presenter named Cerrie Burnell who is visibly disabled that has done quite well with the show, 'Cbeebies.' Cerrie was born with one hand and her appearance on the BBC's children's channel Cbeebies show has prompted some debate among parents as to what they should say to their children who ask questions about her disability. Young and curious minds do not hesitate to point out differences in people they see around them. So how should parents address questions related to disabilities from a child

The number of parents who expressed concern were in the minority.

One father stated that he was afraid Ms. Burnell would cause his daughter to have nightmares; another parent said that her daughter was unable to watch the show because she felt that Ms. Burnell had been hurt. Ms. Burnell says that she doesn't take these statements personally and that they highlight the prejudice that people with disabilities face.

The steps that have been outlined above could very well help children to understand that people with disabilities like Ms. Burnell have not been hurt, and that there is nothing to be afraid of where disabilities are concerned. We are all people and sometimes people do experience disability; it is a natural part of life. As people with disabilities, we are like people who are not currently experiencing a disability; we are involved in nearly everything.

Ms. Burnell has also said, "I would always take the time to explain to a child. All they want is an explanation. They want to know 'What's that' and 'What's happened' and 'Why are you different' And then they will move on." She believes that if a child is old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to understand the answers. She says that she was simply born with one hand and it doesn't stop her from doing anything.

Parents of children who experience disabilities will face the day when their children begin to ask question concerning the disabilities they have. Love, support, honesty, and openness; along with the steps outlined above, are good ways to approach a child concerning the disabilities they experience. Another way of approaching a child concerning the disabilities they have is through literature.

The DICSEY code can help to focus attention on common words, plots or images that children read about in the books which reflect the communities we live in that may be misleading concerning disabilities and the modern world. The DISCEY code may highlight issues that children need explained as well, helping them to grow up with ideas that are more constructive about persons with disabilities and ways to cope should they experience disability themselves.

Encourage your children to enjoy reading and the stories and pictures as they appear.

Talk to them about the stories, ask them about some of the points that are suggested in the notes after each book listed, helping them to understand what lies behind the pictures and words. A number of the books have additional important messages as well.

Bear in mind that even children who are very young can be influenced by views that are unhelpful on television. Gentle questions such as, 'What do you you think about...,' can do a lot to reduce the impact of images that are negative and help a child to be more critical of what they see or read as they grow. The following are some suggested books:

  • Early reader picture books: Mouse and Elephant by An Vrombaut
  • Easy reader picture books: Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
  • Easy reader for juniors: Toad Rage by Morris Gleitzman
  • Picture books for older readers: The Snow Dragon by Vivian French, illustrated by Chris Fisher; Voices In The Park by Anthony Browne
  • Books for fluent readers: King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo

As children with disabilities grow older they often ask questions such as, 'Why am I different', or, 'Will I be able to do the things my sister/brother can do' A child with a disability may not be able to fully articulate these questions. If these questions are not addressed they can develop into misunderstandings. For example - Barbara Cheadle, founder of the National Organization of Blind Children, encountered a blind child who believed that they would, 'grow out of it,' because no one told them otherwise.

The importance of taking time to talk with children about disability cannot be overstated; this includes discussions with siblings, who also need to understand the disability experiences of their sister or brother, as well as disability in general.

Understanding disabilities can give a child the capability to give disabilities their proper name and an explanation of what it means, heading off anxieties, feelings of guilt over having somehow caused it, or fears of somehow, 'catching,' it.

Sandy Taboda, who has always taken an honesty approach concerning her son Michael's blindness, states that for both him and his brother Robert it is just one of Michael's characteristics. She says, 'He has brown hair, he's eight years old, he's blind.'

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