Teaching children about others with disabilities is an important part of parenting. No two people have the same physical abilities and children should be taught to embrace people of all abilities. When speaking to younger children it’s important that you use child friendly phrases that they are capable of understanding. My youngest daughter is three years old. Her understanding of my paraplegia is that Daddy’s legs feel asleep when he got hurt and now they can’t wake up. Will she understand severed nerves and central nervous systems? Of course not, she’s a toddler. She does understand that sleeping people do not move so it was a natural analogy for her.
My daughter Tay is also a specially abled child. When she was 6 months old she was diagnosed with throat cancer and had her entire voice box removed. This has left her as a mute. Is she different in any other way? No, she’s only silent. When we meet other children I explain to them that Tay can’t speak because she had a boo boo in her throat that the doctors had to fix. Tay uses pictures and her hands to talk to people, but she still likes to play with babies and other games. I address the disability but I also make sure I include the ways that Tay is the same as any other small child. I also tell the children to come ask me if they do not understand what she wants to do or if they have a question. Having a toddler with communication struggles can cause great difficulty when trying to tell their friends what they want. We try to limit the amount of activities available at one time for the group of kids. We can play babies or playdoh right now. We can use the pretend kitchen or we can climb like monkeys over the furniture. This makes Tay’s ability to communicate with pointing more effective. She is now pointing at the playdoh table instead of a random room full of toys where the playdoh is located. We also need to get creative as parents when including able bodied children into our disabled worlds. Our play centers are designed around our needs at home. It can be easier to teach an able bodied child to appreciate the things your child is capable of than it is to modify an able bodied game for your child.
Encourage diversity in your home by discussing disabilities with kids at a level they understand. Ask them thought provoking questions so they understand the struggles other children may have in their daily lives. What would be hard for you to do if you couldn’t speak? What ways could you use to tell other people what you wanted if you didn’t have a voice? Play a quiet game and see how you do at making your intentions clear. What would be hard to do if you were in a wheelchair? What games would you like to play if you couldn’t move your legs? Sit or lay on the floor and see what activities you can come up with without using certain muscle groups. More importantly teach your children to be kind to others. Children with disabilities are no different than other children. They love to play, cuddle, be told they’re intelligent, and be praised. They love to be included with all children and to make new friends. A few minutes of education at home can change the lives of children and how they perceive others. Teach them to embrace it and be creative in the ways that they are capable of playing with others.