How We Talk to Kids about Disability
By Guest Blogger Elizabeth Wampler, Stephen J. Wampler Foundation
In the way that some people are dog people, I am a baby and little people person. I adore the innocents, the new-ish little bitties who are pure and emerging and pre-filter. I am talking about the group, who, when they ask questions, have the power to mortify. They’re lightning-fast, too, and although super small, can dumbfound big people without real effort.
I have been that cringing parent and listened, unable to fly through the air to cup my child’s mouth before she was able to ask the nice lady why her teeth were yellow. Oh, the pre-filter days.
These days, when we are out and about and we see a child fast-tracking it our way, his worried, “what’s-he-going-to-say?” parent in tow, Stephen and I have a standing plan.
Our rule is that, as the kid heads toward Steve, questions forming, I try to connect the parent so that:
- He/she knows it is ok to ask anything; and
- That the parent knows we want to encourage that child to ask.
We feel this way for so many reasons. If the kid has a great first experience when they are young, they are much more likely to have a second and third, etc.
In contrast, we know people with disabilities who have different ideas about interactions with others (not judging, just comparing tactics).
For this guy, the hypothetical person in the above paragraph, if a child were to approach him and ask, “what’s wrong with you,” this person gets mad, and answers, “why don’t you ask what’s right with me?!”
What we have found happens in that scenario, however, is that the parent will then coach the child to NEVER approach a person in a wheelchair again. The child and parent feel scolded, and will likely never replicate that experience again.
Right or wrong, we like our way of doing it, and have loved the interactions and sometimes repeated, welcomed visits as well as additional questions and chats with both parents and kids.
We want them to come back! We want them to get to know us better! (Except for Mrs. Yellow Teeth, as I imagine she might still be a little bitter.)
About the Guest Blogger
Elizabeth Wampler is the mother of two teenagers, wife of Steve Wampler who has cerebral palsy, and is a disability advocate. Together with Steve, they are raising their children, running theWampler Foundation that they founded together and live in San Diego, Calif.