service dogs for invisible disabilities

How to Explain Disabilities to a Child

Content Provided by: United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Indiana

“Whether you’re explaining a disability to a child who has one or to a non-disabled child, the following key concepts should be kept in mind” advises Ava L. Siegler, Ph.D. in Child Magazine.

Compassion: Show a child you fully understand what a hurtful thing a disability can be.

Communication: Explain as much as you possibly can about the disability so a child does not become frightened by the unknown.

Comprehension: Make sure a child understands that the disability is never the child’s fault.

Competence: Convey the sense that even though a disability is very hard to deal with, a child with a disability will make progress and learn to do new things.

Suggested phrases to use when explaining a disability to a child:

Age of the Child When speaking to a child with a disability When speaking to a child without a disability
2 to 4 We don’t know why, but sometimes children are born without everything their bodies need, and that’s what happened to you. That means you’re going to have to work harder and we’re going to work hard to help you. Most children like you are born with everything they need, but sometimes children are born without everything they need. Sometimes they need crutches or wheelchairs or braces to help them do what you do naturally.”
5 to 8 “It’s really tough when your body can’t do everything you want it to do. It’s not fair that you have to work so hard to make your body do what you want. But everyone has some activities that are easy for them, and some that require more effort. You have this problem, but you’re lucky to have lots of talents, too.” “Kids are all different, and they have different strengths as well as things that are harder for them. Some things that are easy for you to do are very difficult for other children to do. It takes a lot of courage for kids with physical disabilities to keep trying and working at it.”
9 to 12 It’s a bad break for you to be born with a disability that makes things harder. But remember your abilities, too and work to strengthen them. It’s natural sometimes to feel angry but try not to give up. Whenever you see someone with a disability, remember that even though they are having a hard time, they’re still kids who need friends and understanding.

Some Tips On How To Speak To A Child About Disabilities

  1. Having special needs is different and that’s okay. It’s easy to see someone or something out of the ordinary and feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, we even pretend that disabilities don’t exist because it’s hard to broach the topic. But ignoring disabilities and differences, it unhealthy. Instead, talk about the differently abled in terms of love and respect. Encourage children to help out their peers who may need an extra boost.
  2. Kids are kids, even if they have a disability. Talk to your children about what they may have in common with someone who is disabled. They have feelings, bodies, wants, and favorite toys too. Ask questions like “Do you think they like the same music as you? Do you think he/she might enjoy this game too?”
  3. Disabilities do not mean someone is weak or sick. Avoid using words like sick or wrong. Phrases like “That little boy is sick and that’s why he is uncomfortable with speaking to new kids” create a sense of difference and something bad. It’s important to explain that disabilities are not something you can “catch.”
  4. Teach children that their words matter. Using uplifting words to describe others is a wonderful trait and lesson. Encourage your kids to pay compliments to others and don’t use words like weird or normal. This is important because it starts with how they hear their parents and adults talk about others. Watch what you say and they follow your lead.
  5. Questions are okay. If a child wonders about why someone has a wheelchair or a service dog, encourage them to ask you about it. If you’re unsure of an answer, talk to the person with the disability or their parent. Parents love to talk about their children and this fosters a sense of curiosity that normalizes the difference.

Have some more tips on how to talk to a child about disabilities? Send us some suggestions!

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