Disabilities cover a wide range. Some are obvious—such as a child with a physical disability who uses a wheelchair, or a child with a visual impairment who uses a cane to navigate when walking. Other disabilities may be more “hidden”—for example, children who have learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorder.
Chances are that at some point your child will have a classmate with a disability. Just as you guided your very young child when he or she began to befriend others, you can encourage your child to learn about and be a friend to children who have special needs.
Basic ideas to share with your child
Try to use clear, respectful language when talking about someone with special needs. For a younger child, keep explanations simple, such as, “She uses a wheelchair because a part of her body does not work so well.”
Reinforce with your child that namecalling— even if meant as a joke—is always unacceptable as it hurts people’s feelings.
Getting to know children with special needs
Paradoxically, when it comes to approaching someone with a disability, children may be better at it than their parents because they are less inhibited. Some adults—especially those without previous exposure to people with special needs—may be more timid. Worried about appearing intrusive or insensitive, they may not know what to say or do.
“The other kids are great,” [Jasmine’s] mom says, “They are very direct, which is good. They like her and want to interact with her.”
However, if your child (or you, for that matter) is unsure about approaching a child with a disability, here are some helpful tips:
Learning more about special needs
Reading or learning about a disability is a great way to further understand a child’s
experiences. It may also help dispel any questions you or your child may have. Your local library and librarian can be a great resource for finding age-appropriate
books and materials.
Deborah Elbaum, M.D. is a parent of three children and lives in Massachusetts. She is a volunteer for the disability awareness program taught at her children’s school.
Article courtesy of Motivated magazine. Used with permission. Photo in public domain.