Disability – it doesn’t have to be a difficult subject for your children

Posted by / Thursday 07 December 2017 / Families Disabled children and young people
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Disability can be a tricky subject to start talking about with your children, so we want to bring you some advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Lizzy has CMT and has been in a wheelchair for 15 years. She works at a children’s centre and has three children of her own, so she knows her stuff when it comes to talking to children about disability.

What do children ask about physical disability and how should you answer?

I’m used to people pointing and staring at me, having been in a wheelchair for 15 years now. The most common questions I get from children are “why is that lady in a wheelchair?” and “why can’t that lady walk?”

Answering these questions can make people feel awkward, but it doesn’t need to be.

The best way to answer these questions is to explain that, they might be in a wheelchair because it’s easier for them to move around, or that it’s safer because they might not be able to walk.

Of course there are also lots of different types of physical abilities. Someone might walk with a walking aid for support, or might have a visual impairment or deafness. When talking about learning disabilities I'd explain to children, that the person might have trouble learning or knowing what to do in a situation. So this means they might need help from someone else to work things out.

 

What you shouldn’t do or say

I tell people to stay clear of the using the word “wheelchair-bound”. Not everyone in wheel chair is completely not able to use their legs, some can walk but just not as well as other people. And even if you can’t walk at all, you’re not tied to the chair. I can get in and out of my chair and I do every day.  The more we use it the more children will learn to keep saying it.

One of the worst things you can do is ask other people questions instead of talking to me. A few years ago I went to see a ballet with my brother, and someone starting asking him questions about me, when I was right there! Sometimes now when I’m with my partner, he gets addressed rather than me, even if the question is about me. Ask the person themselves – just because someone is in a wheelchair it doesn't mean you can’t speak to them.

"Sometimes now when I’m with my partner, he gets addressed rather than me, even if the question is about me. Always ask the person themselves."


Try not to make disabilities something for your kids to be afraid of

Lots of children want to play with the wheelchair while I’m in it or use it to pull themselves up when trying to stand up. I love this because it helps to normalise wheelchair for the children, and helps make it into something they don’t need to be afraid of.  

Sometimes parents will say “don’t touch that chair” or will tell their children “leave that alone, it’s dirty”. I can understand they might not want children to touch the wheels, but the chair isn’t dirty – I have to sit in it all day after all. And this just encourages children to be more afraid of people with disabilities.

 

Teaching your children more

There are lots of good resources out there to introduce your children to wheelchairs and wider disabilities too. Books are a great way of introducing children to the idea that some people have difficulty walking, and that it’s ok. There are also loads of great Youtube videos which explain disability in a child-friendly way, like scope’s videos from the "end the awkward" campaign.

 

"Lots of children want to play with the wheelchair while I’m in it. I love this because it helps to normalise wheelchair for the children"


As well as all these things, I would also just encourage your child to always ask questions when they see people with disabilities and let them know its ok to ask. It’s better to ask and for children to understand more about disabilities than to be afraid of talking about it.

 

If you want to find out more about the condition CMT, Lizzy has a fantastic Youtube channel explaining what it is and how she manages. She also writes a blog about what it’s like living with her disability and looking after 3 children: haveyoutriedwalkinglately.wordpress.com