Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Please Don’t Tell My Daughter She’s Special and Other Thoughts On Talking About Disability

As a parent of children with some noticeable physical differences, my family frequently draws attention in public. Some of that attention is welcome; a lot of it, not so much.  As in, if you get out your phone and try to video my kid, we’re going to want to punch your lights out, no questions asked. And, yes, that’s happened. (To be clear, the video part happened, the punching people part was wishful thinking.)

If it feels like parents of children with visible differences harp on the subject of talking about disabilities with kids ad naseum, there’s a reason for that. For a lot of us, the comments and staring don’t feel non-stop, they are non-stop.  You know that one time your child asked in the loudest voice imaginable, “Hey! Where’s her other arm?” That situation is a common occurrence in my world.

Sometimes I just want to stand at a store entrance and shout, “We come to buy toilet paper in peace! Please leave us alone.” If it’s exhausting for me to deal with the questions and the comments as a fully limbed adult, think of how much more frustrating it is for a child to constantly have someone remarking on her physical appearance. To paraphrase Popeye,“She is what she is, and that's all she is." (For the record, we are darn tootin' proud of who she is.)

Dealing with people—both big and little—and their questions is a work-in-progress for us. But here’s what we’ve learned so far: 
  1. Appreciate children’s curiosity.  Kids are naturally curious and uncannily forthright about pretty much everything. When a child sees someone who is different, they often want to talk about it. Children who ask respectful questions deserve respectful answers.
  2. Tackle things head on. Often parents try to ignore their child’s questions or stifle their inquisitiveness with a loud “shhh.” Not only is this ineffective (a curious child can not be deterred and the shush is only likely to draw more attention to the situation, not less) but it also implies that there is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. There is nothing shameful about physical or mental differences.
  3. Be forthright and matter-of-fact. When a child asks a question or makes an observation (which frequently is an implied question), answer forthrightly. Often the subject will then become a non-issue. For example: Where is her other arm?  She just has one arm. Just one? Yup, just the one. Why? That’s just how she was born. Oh, okay.
  4. Don’t downplay the difference. Often people try and explain differences by “normalizing” them. You don’t need to do this. Except perhaps for the very smallest children who have no other frame of reference, it is unnecessary and lame to explain that a person having one arm is like another person having brown eyes. Blond jokes aside, no one's hair color ever kept them from being able to open a door. Different isn’t abnormal; it’s just different. Adults may have a hard time grasping this, children don’t.
  5. Find common ground.  Children have so much in common, but sometimes they need a little nudge in the right direction to help them realize that. Ask kids their ages, their grades in school, their favorite subject or tv show.
  6. Don’t say: It's because she’s “special.” Special often gets used as some kind of euphemism for different, but it’s not. When a child repeatedly hears that they are “special” because of their looks, it reinforces the idea that their value is in how they look, not in who they are. My daughter is special not because of her limbs but because of the wonderful person she is.
If you're looking for more tips on talking to children about disabilities or just special needs in general, I'm delighted to let you know that my eBook, Beautiful Paradox: Musings, Marvelings and Strategies of a Special Needs Parent is part of this year's Ultimate Homemaking Bundle

This year's bundle is chock full of good stuff. It has 106 products (including  2 summits, 21 eCourses, 51 eBooks, 1 membership site, 2 videos, 2 audios, 14 printables, 13 workbooks). Because all of these items are bundled together for this special sale, the price of the bundle is much less than what the items sell for individually. 

Here are just a few of the things that might interest you: 
  • Cozy Minimalist Decorating Class by Myquillyn Smith 
  • A Mom’s Guide to Better Photos: A Beginning Photography Class for Moms With Any Type of Camera by Meg Calton
  • Bullet Journaling for Book Lovers course by Anne Bogel 
  • Clean Mama’s Just One Page Kit by Becky Rapinchuk 
  • Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker 
  • Stretched Too Thin: 10 Days to Overcoming the Hustle and Thriving as a Working Mom by Jessica Turner 
The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle is $29.95 and available for just 6 days. Check out the bundle here.


  1. So in other words, the greatest problem isn't the inquisition of children but the insecurities of adults?

    It did surprise me how invisible I became when I was the mama to a 250 pound autistic boy... You would think we would have been hard not to notice, but most people looked right past us.

    Their loss. Their absolute, total and ignorant loss.

    1. There's was a time when had I seen you with your boy, I wouldn't have known what to say. Now I do - hi.