Talking To Your Child About People With Disabilities

Talking to your child about disabilities is an issue that every parent has to confront at some point. Whether it’s a classmate who is on the autism spectrum or someone who uses a wheelchair, it is likely that your child will come across someone with a disability. It is natural for them to be curious about people with disabilities. Whatever the situation may be, it is important that you as a parent are prepared to talk to your child openly and honestly about any questions that they might have.

You need to help your child understand that people with disabilities are just like everyone else. They have feelings, thoughts, and dreams, just like any kid out there. This blog from Serenity Kids can help you how to explain a disability like autism to your child. And here are other things you must remember when you talk to them about it:

It’s Alright To Be Curious

Children are naturally curious about the world around them and this includes people too. That’s why when they see someone with a disability, they may ask questions about what they see. Not all children are able to express their curiosity articulately, especially if they are younger. They may make a statement that you find embarrassing or inappropriate. Some children may simply stop and stare. The best approach you can offer your child is to talk casually and factually. Give them a short, simple matter-of-fact description and explanation. This way you are able to show your child that a disability is not shameful.

For instance, if your child sees someone in a wheelchair and asks about it, you can offer a response such as, “That person’s muscles work a little differently. The wheelchair helps them to move around, just like your legs help you.”

“It is important to try to keep the explanations positive and free from emotion and negative connotations if you can,” says Walter Rowell, an educator at OXEssays and SimpleGrad. “For example, explaining that wheelchairs help others to move or that hearing aids help others to hear, instead of using words such as can’t hear or can’t walk.”

If you’re not sure how to answer a question your child has about a disability, it’s okay to say that you don’t know the answer and offer to find out more together. It’s also okay to redirect the conversation if it seems like the person with a disability is uncomfortable or doesn’t want to talk about their disability.

Teach Them to Use Respectful Terminology

When you are talking about someone with a disability use the correct terminology. This way you can teach your child how to talk about or refer to a disability in a way that is respectful. It is important to remember that the language you use can be hurtful or derogatory, so avoid using terms like “cripple” or “retarded”.  These types of words can have a very negative impact and make others feel left out or as though they are “less than” other people around them.  Instead, try to use phrases and terms such as, “wheelchair user”, “a person with a learning disability” or a “hearing-aid wearer”.

It is also important to try to avoid using a disability as a way of describing an individual. Try to make a distinction between the disability and the person who is living with it. An example of this would be to avoid describing a child as an “autistic child”. Instead, it is best to refer to “a child on the autism spectrum”.  If you are not sure of the proper terminology to best describe a particular disability, then find out. Mobility International USA has a helpful tip sheet that you can use to help you find the most appropriate terminology to use.

Children learn very quickly and absorb everything around them, including the language they hear from their peers and from you. It can be hard to adapt the language we use, but it is worth modeling the correct language and terminology to your child so that they will be able to use it themselves too. Similarly, if you hear your child using a derogatory term, correct them and explain why they should not be using that particular word or type of language.

It’s also important to remember that everyone is different and may have different preferences when it comes to terminology. It may be helpful to ask the person with a disability or their family about their preferred terms.

Point Out Similarities

When you talk to your child about disabilities, it can be a good opportunity to emphasize to your child all the ways in which those with disabilities are just like them. It’s helpful for your child to learn that someone with a disability is still very similar to them in lots of ways. Emphasize to your child that just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t stop them from having likes and dislikes and feelings, just like you. You should try to take care to separate the person from their disability when you try to explain to your child the ways in which they are similar.

For example, if you are talking to your child about a classmate who has Down Syndrome, you might point out that they both enjoy playing football or that they both go swimming. You might also find similarities between them in terms of age, or perhaps they both have a pet. You can point out similar interests or hobbies that they share as well. By talking to your child about similarities between them and someone with a disability, you are helping to show them that having a disability does not define a person. This can help your child better relate to others who have a disability and help to increase and develop your child’s empathy.

Emphasizing these commonalities can help children understand that people with disabilities are just like them in many ways. This can help reduce stigma and promote understanding and acceptance.

Teach Them to Treat Adaptive Equipment Respectfully

Children will naturally find creative and imaginative uses for new and unfamiliar items. You will need to explain to your child that some people require devices or equipment to help them. Teach them to treat medical devices, such as wheelchairs, canes, or walking dogs, with respect. Make sure that your child understands that these devices and equipment are there to help the person who needs them and that they are not toys to be played with.

You might also talk to your child about why there are designated parking spaces for people with physical disabilities located near the shop. It is a good opportunity to explain why someone may need to use a special vehicle that has been designed so that it can fit a wheelchair in it, or that may have a ramp or specially designed lift.

You can also educate your child on how best to assist someone who uses adaptive equipment. For example, you could explain to your child how holding a door open for someone using a wheelchair can make it easier for them. You should also teach your child that they shouldn’t pet a service dog unless the owner has invited them to do so. This can be a little tricky for children to understand as they may want to pet a service dog when they see them in a public place. Instead, you can simply explain that the dog isn’t a pet, but that it is his job to help the person to see and you don’t pet them so that they don’t get distracted.

It would also be beneficial to encourage children to ask questions about adaptive equipment. This can help them learn more about the equipment and the person who uses it.

Confront and Condemn Bullying

Unfortunately, children with disabilities are often easy targets and tend to be more prone to bullying from others, both children and adults. Explain to your child that bullying anyone is wrong. Talk to them about why it is wrong to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings. It’s important that your child understand that anyone, even someone who looks or behaves differently, has feelings just like they do. Remind them that everyone, whether or not they have a disability, deserves to be treated nicely and with respect.

Teach your child that if they have hurt someone’s feelings on purpose, they need to apologize. Ask them how they would feel if someone had done or said something like that to them. “Make sure that your child understands that bullying is never acceptable,” says Sarah Bloom, a parenting blogger at Studydemic and Essay Services. “Even if their friends are doing it, explain to your child that they must not join in. If they see someone bullying a child with a disability at school, encourage them to tell the teacher.”

Teach Them Empathy and Understanding

Children notice differences, but as a parent, you can help direct your child to see the strengths in others as well as the weaknesses. Rather than merely telling your child that a person with a disability can’t do something, you can also point out what that person’s strengths are too. Teach your child to look for the strengths in others as well, rather than simply focusing on their weaknesses or the things that they struggle with.

For instance, if your child has a classmate who wears leg braces, they might point out that that child “can’t walk well.” This is a good opportunity for you to educate your child. You might ask them what things the child is good at. You might find out that their classmate is fantastic at math or reading. Point out to your child that just because someone finds something challenging or struggles in one area, it doesn’t mean they can do really well or excel in other areas.

“Learning how to empathize with others early on is an important life lesson. By talking to your child about their own challenges, you are helping them to see that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses,” says Helen Demaree, a teacher at Subjecto and Ratedwriting.

You might ask your child to think about what things they find difficult and how they would like others to treat them or help them in those situations. Teach your child to treat others the same way and to help others, just as they would like others to help them in areas they struggle with. Encourage your child to be helpful in a respectful manner to others.

Find Out About Disabilities Together

Your child may have some difficult questions for you to answer about a person’s disability. If you don’t have an answer to their question, don’t be afraid to tell them that you don’t know. If the answer is complicated and you need some time to think about how best to answer your child’s question, then try saying, “I’ll have to think about it and then get back to you with an answer.” You should try to avoid simply making up an answer or dismissing difficult questions.

Instead, it can be a good opportunity for you to learn about disabilities together. You can research a disability together and help teach your child how to educate themselves about unfamiliar topics or conditions. Try to look for child-friendly websites that offer information on disabilities in a way that is child-appropriate. Go through the information together and make sure that your child understands what they have read about with you. Encourage them to ask you questions and clarify anything they may have misunderstood.

You might also want to read age-appropriate books about disabilities or you can look for TV shows that talk about or address specific conditions. An example of this is Sesame Street, which depicts a muppet, called Julia who has autism.

Encourage Them to Ask Before Helping

Very often children will be eager to be helpers. But sometimes they may not know how to actually help, or they may in fact put themselves in danger. For example, it could be dangerous to get behind someone in a wheelchair without asking them first, particularly if the wheelchair user doesn’t see your child. Another example might be if your child wants to help or intervene if they see a child with autism who is feeling very upset. Despite your child’s kind intentions, the other child may just need some space to calm down. Giving them a hug could actually make it worse.

Instead, teach your child to ask before jumping straight in to help. Encourage them to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” This way, the person they are trying to help has an opportunity to say whether or not any assistance is needed and how your child can help.

Whenever your child asks you about disabilities, you will now be prepared to answer their questions and address their observations in a helpful and considerate manner. The key point to remember is that children model their behaviors and attitudes on those of the people around them. By being a good role model to your child, you are helping them learn how to treat people with disabilities kindly and respectfully. It is up to parents to teach children how to emphasize others’ feelings, be respectful and focus on the strengths of others.


Madeline Miller is a writer and tutor at Best assignment writing services AU and Research paper writing services websites. She regularly writes about parenting, offering advice on a range of topics from healthy eating to dealing with bullying. Madeline is also a freelance editor at Best essay writing services portal.

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