When Your Kids Notice Disabilities

By Ivy Bagley

Most children have someone in their lives with a disability. This may be a family member or a classmate. It is important to talk with our children openly and honestly when they have questions regarding this subject. Children are naturally curious and are learning about their environment. Younger children may have never seen a person use a wheelchair or an assistive device. Encourage them to ask questions, but to be respectful. Most persons with a disability are quite open to talking with children and answering their questions. Reassure your child that it is ok to be curious. Make your explanations positive. For example, tell children “wheelchairs help a person move around just as your legs help you to move around.”

Discuss with children how important it is to make certain people do not feel “less than” anyone else. Our words, even if unintentional, can hurt. Don’t utilize a disability to describe a person. For example, encourage children to use phrases such as “wheel chair user.” Openly talk with your child about their word choices and how using derogatory terms can make someone feel.

Take time to point out similarities and show children that having a disability does not define who a person is, but rather is a part of their story. Encourage children to seek out those who may be differently abled and become their friends. Children will learn best how to do this through our own example. How we, as adults, interact with a person who has disabilities will set the tone for their individual interactions. Looking for a person’s strengths verses their weaknesses as well as discussing our own personal weaknesses allows children to see that we all have various talents and challenges. This discussion will help children learn to become more empathetic.

Teach children that bullying those who are different than we are will not be tolerated. Encourage them to report any bullying to adults and to not participate in bullying. Children need to understand that laughing when a peer is mean to another person is, in fact, participating in bullying. Encourage them to not leave out fellow classmates and seek out ways to include them in recess, games, and other classroom activities.

Young children, especially those who are preschool age, may struggle to understand that assistive devices (wheelchairs, canes, or walkers) are not toys. They may not understand a person’s service animal is not a family pet they can play with. Educating children can be very simple and answer their questions helps them to better understand their world.

Through a little education and leading by example, we can help children and adults who are differently abled to feel more welcomed and included in our community.

Ms. Bagley, a family nurse practitioner for 12 years, enjoys seeing patients of all ages at Children’s Health Services. She is a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) who works with breastfeeding moms/babies through office visits and their online breastfeeding support group. She recently obtained a Certificate of Advanced Education in Obesity Medicine. She is an active member in OMA, AANP, ICLA, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and within the community. Recently, she began an online group, “Blessed and Healthy Families,” with the goal of educating families on overall health and well-being. She has a specific focus on obesity. Ms. Bagley owns Creative Blessings Photography and serves many local groups through her photography. She enjoys her family and spending time traveling. Her life verse is “All things work together for those who love The Lord.” Romans 8:28 

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