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Five Ways to Teach Your Child About People With Differences - Part Four

Part Four - Five Ways To Teach Your Child About People With Differences - Differently Abled Etiquette

Thanks for joining me again for part four of my five part series! I can't believe we've almost made it through already!

If you are new to this series, you might want to go back and start with PART ONE. <---click here to read it.

If you have been following along, THANK YOU! I hope you are enjoying it!

People first Language is important. I cringe whenever I hear someone say "I know a Downs kid." I don't know why that one gets to me so much, but it does. "A person with Down's Syndrome" would be much more appropriate. In general, let's all teach our kids to just see the person before the disability. That's really the whole premise of People First Language. Put the person first. Not autistic child, rather, child with autism. If they get wrong, it's not the end of the world,  but like reminded them to say please and thank you, let's remind our kids what language is appropriate to use when referring to disabilities.

Unfortunately, there are still many adults who need help in this area. Once I was sitting in a law school class and a guy was asking the teacher a question. He was talking about ADA laws and began explaining how his wife is an architect who helps design hospitals. Sit down for what I'm about to tell you he said next. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't heard it with my own ears. He said out loud for everyone to hear "My wife has to jump through hoops and hurdles to make sure that every blind, disabled, wheelchair ridden person can get through that hospital without help." He was complaining guys, that disabled people need to navigate a hospital. Let that sink in. He was complaining that a hospital has to be built so that PEOPLE WHO NEED TO USE SAID HOSPITAL can actually use it. My jaw dropped. I was shaking. Had I had the opportunity to say something to him, I would have. But the teacher apparently realized that we had a "wheel chair ridden person" in our class (I was sitting next to him) and quickly changed the topic and would not call on me with my hand raised. I probably had fire coming out my eyes and the teacher wasn't about to get that brawl started. haha! Person in a wheelchair would be fine, guys, but using the word "ridden" to describe anyone for anything is probably not going to fair well. Can you imagine someone calling me "curl ridden" because my hair is so curly? Not a compliment.

Teach children and please imitate yourself for them to see and just because it's the decent thing to do, how to speak to a person with a disability. Yes, do address polite and impolite things to say, but more so, teach your kids to talk TO a person with a difference. Make sure you are addressing the person with the difference yourself. It's okay if you already know they won't reply. You aren't addressing them to get a reply. You are addressing them because they are a human being worth addressing. Say hello. Ask them how they are. Call them by name if you know it. Look at them. Reach out a hand to shake theirs. Have a conversation just like you would with anyone else. It's perfectly okay, and actually polite to talk to people who can't verbalize back. Just don't be rude and expect a reply. Don't say arrogant things like "Aren't you going to say 'hi?'" or "Cat got your tongue?" Just be kind y'all. Not everyone can or wants to reply to you, and guess what, they don't owe you a reply. Just be kind.

I have several friends who have children who are completely non verbal. We ran into one in a waiting room at a therapy center one day, which is not unusual, and Chandler noticed a little boy about his age. He was excited for a play mate, so he ran up to this little boy and waved and said hi. The boy stopped only for a moment to look at Chandler, never said a word, never really made eye contact, and continued running around as little boys do. Chandler was confused. He looked at me and asked why that little boy didn't say hi to him. I explained that some people aren't able to talk, but they can hear you. I encouraged him to continue talking to this little boy, even if he didn't get a reply. I tried to convey not to expect a reply, but rather to be his friend anyways. It was confusing to Chandler. He is four. It shouldn't be confusing to an adult in the age of technology we have and how well know autism is at this current time.

Another incident happened not too long after that where Chandler said hello to a totally neurotypical child who either didn't hear him or chose to ignore him, and he asked me if that boy couldn't talk either! lol! Kids are watching and listening to us! That's for sure!

We must model the behaviors we want our kids to have, but not only that, we must also train them in those behaviors. Explain to them how they should treat people, or what to do if they encounter a person with a difference. Talk to them about it and practice it! We LOVE when moms bring their kids up to say hello to us, and that mom and I exchange knowing glances that communicate an understanding. She is trying to teach her kids something that I would never stand in the way of, and rather, am happy to help facilitate! If her kids learn what I hope they will learn by meeting Christian, learning how to approach and talk to him, then that's a win for them and us!

If you ever see us out in public and want to have a learning moment with your child, please holler at us. Christian gets excited when kids talk to him. He loves other kids. He can meet a child one time and he calls them his friends. He isn't annoyed and I am not bothered. Find us! We want to help you teach your kids about acceptance! It just means a better world for all of us! If I really am too busy to talk, I can let you know, and I'll be nice about it, but that hasn't happened yet. :)

Let's talk about some other things that are probably inappropriate etiquette. Just this week, we were at a store with the boys. We were walking around and came upon someone. That's a pretty normal thing to do in a store, see other people walking around ya know. Imagine my surprise when this lady, probably close to my own mother's age, loudly proclaimed an "ewwww!" I looked up as a reaction and saw that she was looking at Christian. I glared at her for a moment, then turned away so as not to curse at her. I needed a moment to process what had just happened and make sure I hadn't misunderstood. I asked Chris if I had just understood what happened correctly. He was so mad as well that he just said "yeah" and we both sort of just stood there in shock.

So many things ran through my mind in a matter of seconds. I thought about saying so many ugly things to her. Then I noticed that Christian was happily playing with a toy at  display and had no idea what had just happened. I decided that I wasn't sure I could say something to her without being ugly, and that I didn't want to make a scene to where Christian would now notice what had happened. I just walked away and as I did, heard her say loud enough for us to hear, "Oh, that spider toy scared me." She lied. She was covering herself instead of owning up to what she had just done, which made me even more angry, because then I knew that she totally realized that what she had done was unacceptable.

Y'all, I'm going to be honest. That hurt. A lot. It felt like a punch in the gut. And while I wanted to say lots of things to her, I still do, I am not going to say anything in anger. Was she old enough to know better? Oh yeah. Should she have owned up and apologized? Absolutely. Was she probably uneducated on disability or possibly hadn't encountered people with differences much? Probably.

So, grace upon grace and forgiveness seven times seventy. I'm not there yet.  I don't feel like I've forgiven her. I'm still angry. But I will not retaliate. Vengeance isn't mine anyways, nor do I wish her to "get what's coming to her." I am hurt, but I have learned that hurting her in return won't help. I hope that maybe she felt bad for what happened and went home and thought about it. I hope she resolves that next time she will do better. Screaming at her would not produce that result. Screaming at her would have probably have caused her to dig her heels in and stand by her actions, because that's what people do when you jump on them.

I wish I could have been calm enough to talk to her and explain that what she said was hurtful, but in that moment, I just couldn't. So, I did the next best thing. I just walked away and am praying that God will open her eyes to what she just doesn't know. I think He will.

If you start teaching your two year old appropriate behaviors and how to interact with people with differences now, this scenario won't play out when they are fifty, guys. Get your child involved with all kinds of people, not just typical peers. Not just the kids just like them. Your children will be better people for knowing people like my Christian. I promise. I am a better person for knowing him.

I wanted to end by listing a few ideas I had for getting your kids involved and teaching them about differences so that you can produce opportunities to teach.

  • Pull up photos on google of people with differences of all kinds and talk about them with your kids
  • Read books such as 
    • Special People, Special Ways by Arlene Maguire
    • Way To Go Alex by  Robin Pulver
    • Just Because by Rebecca Elliot
    • Zoom by Robert Munsch
    • A Very Special Critter by Gina Mayer
    • I See Without my Eyes by Mark Hayward
    • Don't Call Me Names: Learning To Understand Kids with Disabilities by C.W. Graham
    • And honestly, there are so many more that I couldn't list them all. Just google and you will find tons!
  • Take opportunities to talk to people with differences in public and model words and behaviors for your kids. 
  • Volunteer at a local rehabilitative therapy center like Special Kids, Inc. Allow your kids a chance to peer model for other kids, be around them, help them, and play with them. Many places are desperately looking for people to come play with the kids!
  • Have your children help you put together care packages for kids who are in the hospital local to you. Call your local children's hospital and ask what exactly the children there might want in a care package, find out the specifics for getting it to the hospital, and go for it! Meanwhile, talk to your kids about why you are doing it and how it will help the kids. 
  • Link up with folks on facebook with differences and have your kids write them letters or send cards. It gives kids a chance to discuss and process what they are thinking about, and possibly even ask questions they might be curious about. It gives them a chance to communicate with people with differences in a way where they can sit and think about what they are going to say beforehand, but also gives them a chance to really communicate with people with differences
If you have more ideas, please let me know in the comments. Someone reading this might see an idea what can really work for them!

So, I hope you enjoyed this post about etiquette. Please feel free to share it and spread the word about teaching kids about people with differences. I hope this blog series is making the world a little bit of a better place for Christian. :)


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