Talking about disability to 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. 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.

Firstly, address the difference. Children are naturally curious and may stare, gawk, or point at peers who have obvious physical differences, so use the opportunity to educate on disability, not bury the topic. When children are taught to “ignore” disability, they neglect the importance of inclusion, so 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 that 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. Instead of words like “crippled,” “retarded,” or “deformed,” you can use words like “different,” “disabled,” or cognitively/intellectually 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 will reinforce inclusion, acceptance, and empathy with your child.

Immediately discourage bullying or jokes. A child may naturally want to tease or prey on another child’s difference or disability, as children with disabilities are commonly considered “easy targets” for verbal abuse. Demonstrate to your child that 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 the same to another child. 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.

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.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Definition:

Cerebral palsy, though commonly associated with impairment of motor function, is actually caused by brain damage that occurs while a child’s brain is still in its developing stages – before birth, during birth, or directly after birth. Due to this brain damage, those who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy have difficulty with body movement, muscle coordination, muscle tone, muscle control, reflex, balance, posture, and motor skill functions (fine, gross, and oral).

Alan Rasof

Cause:

Each individual’s case of cerebral palsy damage due to the amount of brain damage that occurs, the time the brain damage occurs during a certain developmental phase in the brain, and the type of brain damage that occurs. According to Cerebralpalsy.org, the type of brain damage that causes cerebral palsy can be one (or more) of the following:

  1. Prenatal disturbance of brain cell migration – genetic and environmental factors disturb brain cell migration as cells move to their appropriate location during brain development.
  2. Prenatal poor myelination (insulation) of developing nerve cell fibers – brain function is impeded when poor myelin provides an inadequate protective covering over nerve cells that aid in the transmission.
  3. Perinatal brain cell death – events in the birthing process that rupture blood vessels or starve oxygen to the brain.
  4. Postnatal non-functional or inappropriate connections (synapses) between brain cells – trauma, infections, and asphyxia that damage connections developed in the brain.

Alan Rasof Pregnant-Woman

History:

Alan Rasof amigo mgaCerebral palsy was pioneered by Dr. William John Little in the mid 1800s, who used his own childhood disability as motivation for this discovery. In addition, Sir William Osler, an important figure in modern medicine, wrote the first book pertaining to cerebral palsy to help spread awareness. He came up with the idea that the disability was a result from abnormal fetal development – far before the medical field agreed with his concept.

According to Cerebralpalsy.org, “At different times, the U.S. government passed crucial legislation to modernize care and further rights of individuals with a disability. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, which promoted community-based care as an alternative to institutionalization,” (History of Cerebral Palsy).

Medicine has played a large role in understanding cerebral palsy, along with diagnosing it. Technological advancements in medicine have aided those who have cerebral palsy, redefining what it means to live with a disability. In addition, blood typing medicine, similar to which is used to cure jaundice, and vaccine developments such as rubella, have helped, and continue to help, to prevent the development of cerebral palsy.

In Children:

Many times, signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy are not apparent at birth, but when it comes to development and growth milestones, parents will likely notice a delay unusual from normal patterns. Today, about the amount of children with cerebral palsy ranges from about 2.3% to 3.6% out of 1,000 children.

Please stay tuned for the next blog post to find out about the preventative measures for cerebral palsy.