Meet: How To Talk About Disabilities with Your Child

I had a post planned for today but then couldn’t use it due to some timing issues. So I figured I’d skip today (who really ever wants to go to a Monday morning meeting). But then a friend emailed me a question regarding how to talk to her son about Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities. I forwarded the question to my sister, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor and works with children with disabilities. When I received her answer, I felt the urge to pass it on and thought, How nice I have a blog.

I won’t use my friend’s real name, since I haven’t asked permission to use her email. I have really nice friends so I know she won’t mind. I’ll call her Sally just so we’re safe, since I know absolutely no one by that name. (I’m sorry to any Sally it turns out I actually do know.)

Here’s Sally’s email:

I was at the art fest this past weekend with [my son]. We passed by a man with Down’s Syndrome, and after we walked by he said, “Mommy, why was that man making a funny face?” I told him he wasn’t making a funny face, and then he assured me he was and tried to mimic the look on his face.

We were in a very crowded area and something else distracted him immediately after that, but it got me thinking about how I talk to him about people with disabilities. How do you explain things like Down’s Syndrome or if he sees kids or adults in wheelchairs, etc? Have any of you addressed these types of questions with your 5 year olds? I want to talk to him about it but in a way that will make sense and help him to develop respect and understanding.


And my sister’s response (it is unedited, she wants you all to know):

Nice. I love that she is trying to learn the best way to talk to her children about disabilities. For a 5 year old, I would keep it simple while using clear, positive language. Talk about how no two people are the same, but that some differences are more noticeable than others. Then she can go on to talk about disabilities and that someone who has a disability also has many other characteristics (the disability is just one characteristic). Talk about the similarities….children with disabilities want friends, respect, they like to color, play tag, etc. They may need assistance or adaptive equipment to help them, but they still would like to be included.

Definitely talk about name calling and that even if it’s a joke it is always unacceptable and it hurts people’s feelings.

Hope this helps a little? It’s a difficult topic to approach but the most important thing is to keep the language positive and use ‘person first’ language: “a child with a disability” instead of “a disabled child.”

This is a good link for when her son is a few years older. But the ideas in there can be tailored to his age:

A link of books about special needs for kids….



8 thoughts on “Meet: How To Talk About Disabilities with Your Child

  1. Hey Jess – Matthew went to kindergarten with three kids with disabilities this year. One little girl, as Matthew said, “walked with wheels”. I am not sure exactly what her disability is but I’m thinking muscular dystrophy or something along those lines. She used a walker from time to time. Another girl was born without arms. She does everything with her feet. AMAZING little girl!! The third little boy has downs syndrome. We just got back from his birthday party! I absolutely loved that he was able to have the experience of being with this kids on a daily basis. He struggled the most with understanding Dougie’s disability. The other two were physical so more obvious. When he asked me questions about why he wore a diaper to school and made funny noises and sometime hit people I told him that Dougie’s body was 5 years old but his brain wasn’t quite there. I tried to explain that he wants to have friends and be just like the other kids and he should try to help him but not too much. He needs to learn how to do things on his own. Dougie is one of his favorite people! He doesn’t see anything strange or different about him and it’s wonderful!! I talked with his teacher asking if what I told him was okay because I don’t have any experience with this. I hope Katie thinks it was a decent explanation!

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