How to explain disability to a child
First of all, when talking to a child about this topic, take into account their age and what exactly they want to find out.
Second, be honest: if you do not know the answer to a certain question, say so, promising to return to this topic later. Third, when you’re talking about disability: use the right vocabulary from the very start (using euphemisms or avoiding this conversation is harmful) and explain to the child why certain words are incorrect and sometimes even offensive. You can find the correct terminology in our dictionary.
Sometimes parents are afraid to start this conversation because they do not know what to say. However, such conversations do not require encyclopedic knowledge. It is enough to teach your child the basic principles of tolerance. This simply means an understanding that all people in the world are different and that it is incredibly interesting to observe our differences and find out how certain people live. You should also explain to the child that equal treatment is based on respect and not on feelings of pity or fear.
Some forms of disability or medical conditions can be explained in simple terms.
For example, say “girl Tanya has a hearing impairment, this is her difference, like you have freckles on your nose. Tanya uses sign language to communicate. And if you want to talk to her, you can learn some phrases and words so that she can understand you better. Or you can speak more clearly so she can read your lips.”
Let the child know that person/child’s characteristics are not an obstacle to communication. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to learn something new and interesting.
The best thing you can do is not to interfere with your children’s communication with children who have disabilities if they are interested and they want to be friends. Instead, help them and teach tolerance.
Teach a child to see a person first of all as a person, and see the disability just as one of the traits a person can have.
And most importantly do not try to scare the child and do not invent any nonsense that will affect their attitude towards children and people with disabilities. If, for example, a child is behaving in a dangerous manner and you realize that he or she may be injured, the worst thing you can do is yell at them and say that if they act that way, “he or she will become disabled and end up in a wheelchair.” Such emotional phrases can affect a child’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. In this case, it is better to say that such reckless behavior can lead to injury or pain. Never intimidate children using people with disabilities or the disability itself.
It is important to explain to children the cause and effect of another child’s atypical behavior, such as autism spectrum disorder. Otherwise, they will perceive everything in a simplified way: “That person is different, so you can make fun of them, laugh.” Children may not be aware that a word or joke from them can be very harmful to a child with ASD. Or they might not understand why someone can do something (for example, get up during a lesson) and they can’t.
In general, children have much fewer stereotypes than adults. They are open to communication and may not really notice the wheelchair, hearing aid or anything of that sort. Because, as Olesya Yaskevych’s, mother of Matviy, a child with a disability has noted, there are no disabilities in childhood.And if you don’t tell children harmful nonsense like “you can catch a disability by touching a child in a wheelchair,” they won’t spread those myths any more, and they won’t be afraid to communicate.
Remember rule №2: be as honest as possible when talking to children. If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to tell your child about it and do research together – read interviews or thematic books, such as Anastasia Stepula’s book on diversity and equality “World without Borders” or watch a series of inspiring stories such as “Stories without borders”.
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