“Daddy, what’s wrong with that boy?” the little girl asked. I knew she noticed my son Joey, an amazing little boy who just happens to have Down syndrome. He also developed alopecia a few years ago, leaving him with no hair—a look he owns fabulously, but that draws more than a few stares. I turned with a smile, happy to help answer her questions, but the dad turned uncomfortably away before shooing his daughter to a different part of the playground.
Honestly, for most of my life I have been very uncomfortable around people with disabilities. In fact, until recently, I would have gone out of my way to avoid someone who looked or acted different because of a disability. If my small children had pointed out the differences by asking questions, I would have been horrified! Now, though, I am on the other side of the fence. Six years ago, I was blessed with Joey, and he has taught me a lifetime’s worth of lessons already.
Parents often ask me how to talk to their kids about disabilities. Even more often, I hear the hushed conversations around us at the park, the zoo, and the grocery store. I want to hug every curious child and every well-intentioned parent. I want them to know their questions are OK. Better than that, they are good. We should ask questions and start a dialogue instead of avoiding and allowing confusion and fear to grow.
Here are six ideas to keep in mind the next time you talk to your child about people with disabilities: