Talking About Disability With Able-Bodied Children


A huge part of creating an inclusive, supporting environment for children with disabilities is making sure their peers are in the know about how disability works. My grandson, Elijah, lives with cerebral palsy, and it’s important he grows up around adults and peers who cherish him as a person, not as a pet or a project. I want everyone Elijah interacts with to be mindful of his limitations and cherish him for the fun little boy he is.

You may initially feel uncomfortable talking with a young child about a classmate in a wheelchair or a classmate with learning differences, but creating a world more receptive to people with differences starts with young people. Rather than teaching a child to ignore a person with a disability, or worse yet, treat a person with a disability condescendingly, here are some ways you can talk about disability in a way that encourages interaction and acceptance.

Address the difference.

Children are naturally curious and may stare, gawk, or point at peers who have obvious physical differences. Use the opportunity to educate on disability, not bury the topic. When children are taught to “ignore” disability, they neglect the importance of inclusion. Teach them to embrace differences, ask questions, and engage with people who are different.

Talk straight with your child.

Use names for devices and briefly sum up their purpose. For example, if your child is curious about a person with an oxygen tank, explain plainly and without emotion or speculation the person may need some extra help breathing, so they use the tank to help. Using appropriate and respectful words to describe disability will instill respect in your child. Some words are offensive, such as, “crippled,” “retarded” or “deformed.” Instead, teach words like, “different” or “disabled” to ensure acceptance rather than condescension.

Point out similarities.

Rather than dwelling on how children with disabilities are different from able-bodied children, talk about the ways all children are similar. Children like to have friends, play games, form opinions, pet puppies, watch movies and other common activities. Spending time on similarities reinforces inclusion, acceptance, and empathy. Immediately discourage bullying or jokes; children with disabilities are commonly considered “easy targets” for verbal abuse.

Point out what is hurtful.

Tell your child it would be hurtful if someone teased them for something uncontrollable — such as their hair color or name — so it’s not nice to do it to someone who has a disability. Your main thesis when discussing disability with your child should be that, no matter a child’s condition, they’re still a person who deserves respect and acceptance.

Model respect.

Taking the time to teach and model respect towards people with disabilities will help develop the same attributes in children, reduce bullying, and create an inclusive culture that benefits both able-bodied people and those with disabilities.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by Purestock


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Disability

US dollar bill crumbling into pieces.

To Donald Trump: Please Don't Value Money More Than People With Disabilities

Dear President Trump, Congratulations on your recent presidential election. You are now the leader of the United States and you have the made the promise to unite the country. I am writing to you today to help you do this. I believe our policies will deeply affect individuals with disabilities in an unfortunate way — [...]
Hands holding a lit candle in the darkness.

The Light I See in These Dark Times for People With Disabilities

We are living in a scary time. This seems to be the conclusion of so many conversations I’ve had lately with various people from diverse political viewpoints. While obviously not everyone shares this perspective, those of us who live and/or work with more vulnerable populations, such as children and adults with disabilities can’t seem to [...]
Drawing of a woman deep in thought.

When I Stopped Blaming Myself as an Abuse Survivor With a Disability

Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling  1-800-799-7233. In life, there’s no real way of telling what we have in store for us. I don’t think anyone anticipates that one day they, or [...]
Stephanie Woodward getting arrested

More Than 50 People With Disabilities Were Arrested After Protesting in D.C.

On Wednesday, 54 people with disabilities as well as disability allies were arrested in Washington D.C. after protesting the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The protest, organized by ADAPT, a national disability rights organization, included disability activists from around the country – almost all of whom [...]