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Parents Talking Disability

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In The Huffington Post last week, I read this: Disability Awareness: 10 Things Parents Should Teach Their Kids About Disabilities, By Tiffiny Carlson, The Mobility Resource.

I found it interesting because I admit to struggling with ‘the things kids say’. They are so crushingly honest and I prefer to live in my own world of mild self-delusion about how different I am now from ‘before’ – my pre-illness and disability self.  Kids have a horrifying ability to rip those self-deluding blinkers off, forcing me to face realities that I am happier to pretend do not exist.

The fact is that I like my self-delusion.  It is one of the mechanism’s that I use to cope, generally harmless to others and I do not appreciate my facade being cracked or shattered by strangers, even when they are young strangers.

Tiffiny Carlson hones in on how parents might manage their kids curiosity in a way that allows them to explore their natural responses to disablility without being offensive to anyone.  She introduces the following ’10 ways to help give your kid a leg up on how to think differently about disabilities’ – please do look at the full article as I am providing bullet point coverage only to pique your interest and there is much more to entertain you in the expanded original:

  1.  Answering “Why can’t they walk?”
  2. Don’t get mad when they get curious.  Fear, shame or embarrassment is not what you want your kids to feel in the presence of disability. I hear kids ask their moms about me all the time. Cutest thing ever.
  3. Being different isn’t a negative thing.  “The world is full of people who are different,” is vital.
  4. Always ask before helping.  Letting them know we can do many things on our own is a huge lesson for kids.
  5. Our wheelchairs aren’t oversized strollers … driving home the notion of a wheelchair as being an empowering object, not one that symbolizes helplessness, can make a huge impact.
  6. Be careful how you react yourself.  It’s no secret kids are sponges and instantly sense whatever mom or dad is feeling.
  7. A 10-second stare is ok. I promise.  Kids are shiny new people learning about the world. Their innocent glances are 100 percent ok.
  8. We aren’t in pain.  While some of us do have some awful chronic pain, letting your kids know a disability doesn’t necessarily equate to physical pain can take a definite load off their mind.
  9. We can be awesome too. [In the UK, some examples you might use are the Paralympians, Stephen Hawkins, Tanni Grey-Thompson …]  They need to see us involved, having fun, even dare I say cool.  [In the UK, take a look at Hannah Ensor’s work, books and product over at Stickman Communications to help with this].
  10. Our chairs aren’t glued to our butts.  The first time my niece saw me get out of my chair and onto the couch was at Christmas when she was 2-years-old. Her eyes widened and she was deliriously happy when she saw me get out … (I don’t think she thought it was even possible until that point).

… these above tips are mine alone. Not all people with disabilities may agree on these recommendations. Whenever possible, ask people with disabilities in your life for any input or tips. There’s knowledge to be learned from everyone.

Tiffiny Carlson is right that many of us would add/emphasize other issues but her ideas are a great place for us all to start: click here to read.

(1st posted on SW Archive site: 2013)

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