HKQ Kids

Teaching Disability Sensitivity

It’s likely that your child has someone with a disability in their life, whether it’s a classmate or a relative. Some disabilities are visually apparent, while some may be less noticeable, but your child will almost certainly have questions either way. Their curiosity is only natural, but parents sometimes struggle with how to answer these questions and explain disabilities to their children. Regardless of how anyone looks, talks, moves, or thinks, we all just want to be respected and understood; these tips can help prepare you for any questions your child may have about people with disabilities.

First and foremost, it’s important that your child understands the language they should use when referring to someone with a disability. Name-calling or jokes at the person’s expense are obviously never appropriate. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can always be a useful exercise in teaching empathy early on in a child’s life.

On that note, even words and phrases that aren’t intended as insults can be hurtful, e.g. saying that there’s something “wrong” with a person, or that they’re “sick.” Some people are disabled from birth, while other disabilities arise from accidents. It’s never the person’s fault or something that they chose, and it is something that is out of their control. Explain that a disability is not something that your child can “catch” like a cold, and that they shouldn’t worry about being around people with disabilities.

If your child sees or meets someone with a disability and has questions, a simple and concise explanation is the best course of action. The less complex and emotional the explanation, the more likely your children will understand the disability and what it entails. Try to avoid negative language in your explanations. While it may be true that a person can’t walk, it’s just as easy to say that a wheelchair or cane helps a person move.

Emphasize that while there may be differences between your child and a classmate with a disability, they likely still have more in common than not. Not every person with a disability devotes all their time and concern to their condition; they have their own friends, families, hobbies, and aspirations, just like your child.

Make sure your child understands that any devices that help a person, like wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc. are not toys or things that can be “tried out” or touched without permission. Ensure that your child respects the space of people with disabilities. In the case of people accompanied by service dogs, explain that the dog’s job is to help somebody, and that they shouldn’t be distracted or kept from doing their job.

There are plenty of resources available that are specifically designed to teach children about disabilities. Plenty of YouTube videos or Sesame Street episodes feature and discuss the topic of living with a disability. If you’re having trouble finding the right words on your own, consider showing your child a relevant clip or episode that might help answer their questions.

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