What To Tell Your Kids About Disabilities

Not sure how to explain disabilities to your children? Here are a few suggestions that can help you broach the subject with sensitivity and insight.

People with disabilities are more visible in our society than ever before. Whereas past generations sometimes locked away loved ones with physical impairments, nowadays family members and medical staff have a variety of ways in which to help, nurture, and encourage those that are physically challenged through limited hearing, speech, or movement, etc. Disabled veterans, accident victims, and genetically impaired persons offer a plethora of meaningful contributions to our society that should not be overlooked.

But children may not know how to assess those who function with a different body or mind that others. When your children ask questions about disabled persons, do you know how to answer them? Here are suggestions that can help you begin to introduce this issue and develop your children's sensitivities to this key population group:

1. Everyone has a disability of some kind. Whether it's physical, as with vision problems that require eyeglasses, or a stuttering problem, or even shyness, each of us deals with some aspect of our personality or body that requires adjustments to help us fit in with mainstream society. Teach your kids that disabilities are a normal part of life, although some are more apparent than others, with those people requiring greater support or assistance.



2. Disabilities make us stronger. Those coping with a physical, emotional, or mental limitation often do so by exerting greater strength or courage than the average person. Moving slower than other people, wheeling in a chair as others walk, or presenting a varied appearance requires bravery and determination. Encourage your children to admire those who seem different from themselves rather than feel sorry for them.

3. Those with disabilities often have interesting experiences to share. What's it like not to hear? To see only shadows? To speak in ways that others barely understand? While at first such situations may seem awkward and unpleasant, many are fraught with humor, tenderness, and insight to the human soul. Share anecdotes of Helen Keller or Johannes Sebastian Bach or Franklin D. Roosevelt who made substantial contributions to our history and culture and observed human nature in varying ways.

4. Take your children to volunteer in an agency that ministers to disabled persons. Hearing, speech, or vision clinics may welcome volunteers who talk with clients, hand out literature, or provide auxiliary services. Your children will be able to closely observe a special group of people, thereby adding to their understanding of how they function differently in our world.

5. Share materials on disabilities with your kids. Books, videos, news stories, and Web sites offer plentiful facts, reports, and personal stories that can help young people learn to value differences among members of a society. Rather than fear, scorn, or avoid "different" people, kids can be taught to admire, support, and learn from those whose perspective on life is different from ours.

Disabilities play an important role in our world in helping us to cultivate understanding and sensitivity to those who seem removed from mainstream experience. Start while your children are young to help them value these differences and the sanctity of life, always precious.

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