We were perusing our local nature center last weekend, and my seven-year-old daughter Penny abruptly stopped walking. Ahead of us were twin girls, probably three or four years old. One used a walker to support herself. Penny didn’t say anything, but her eyes grew wide as they passed by. Today in school my younger daughter, Marilee, who is two, had a similar response to a girl with a crutch propped under her arm.
We see kids and adults with physical aids all the time—the young woman in the wheelchair at church, the little boy at the dentist with the special lift in his car that helps him get up and down, the man with the knee brace, the girl with a cast on her arm. Sometimes their situation is permanent, other times it is temporary. But either way, my kids are inclined to stare and then to ask me what happened.
For a long time, I didn’t know what to say.
My inability to respond felt ironic. Penny was born with Down syndrome, so she too has physical signs of difference, in her bright green almond-shaped eyes, in her short stature, in the braces she wears on her ankles and the glasses on her face. But just because I have a child with a condition that affects her physical and cognitive abilities doesn’t mean I automatically knew how to talk about disability with her or with our other children. And yet, as Penny grew up, I started to think about Down syndrome differently than I once had. In time, I was able to apply what I had learned about Penny to the various people I encounter who live with both physical and intellectual challenges. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I’m far more comfortable and adept at talking with my kids about disability than I used to be. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:
Keep reading at How to Talk to Kids (and Parents) About Disability at PBS Parents