We have all seen post about being kind or teaching children about disabilities but what does that really mean to young children? How do you as an adult answer questions that perhaps you don’t really understand yourself? Is it rude to ask or even approach someone in a wheelchair or who has braces on their legs or maybe they just look, speak, eat different then you and I? What is the importance of teaching young children about engaging with someone who has a disability? How do you as a parent support a young child with developing a friendship with a child who perhaps is non-verbal?
The adults in a young child’s life has many influences and this includes how you interact with someone who may have diverse abilities that may make you uncomfortable because you just simply don’t know how to respond or engage. To create a culture of acceptance and inclusion, it is very important that we demonstrate and model appropriate and respectful responses to people we encounter in day to day life as well as those we pass on a daily basis.If you are in a situation that it is appropriate to ask a person either about themselves or their child simply ask, “Do you mind if I ask about your child?” When we as adults avoid or ignore we are not modeling for our children that it is okay to have differences, we are all different in some way, and our differences makes us unique. When we model acceptance through simple gestures we are creating the foundation of inclusion on the most basic level.
Parents often say, "I wish someone would just ask me instead of telling their child don’t stare that is rude." Remember when asking someone about their disability or why they use a specific piece of equipment such as braces, wheelchair etc this does not give you permission to ask more personal questions, keep it general.
When young children that have never been around medical equipment and suddenly find themselves in a preschool classroom with a child who needs suctioning throughout the day or at the grocery store and pass a child who is different from them, they may find this a little scary. It is up to the adults to help this child understand that it is ok and our role is to help that child look past that device and see that this is just another little boy or girl in their class that likes to read and sing songs or at the store picking up groceries just like them.
Be honest! Answer the hard questions truthfully and directly but remember age appropriately. And remember disabilities are part of everyday life in every culture and across all socio-economic levels but most importantly remember we are all more alike than we are different.
Author: Lisa Spurlock, Coordinator, Family Voices of Tennessee Southeast Partnership