How to talk to your children about special needs

How to talk to your children about special needs

BETHANY, OK (KSWO) –With students back in the classroom, chances are your child will or has encountered a person with special needs. An impolite remark or a rude stare cannot only hurt a child's feelings, but also foster an attitude of intolerance. So parents need to be ready and prepared to answer their children's questions.

Occupational therapists at The Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital said the way a parent responds is likely to affect the way a child thinks about people with special needs and ultimately treats others in school. Therapists at the Hospital said talking to your children about special needs in a productive way, can create opportunities for inclusion and acceptance.

It's important for parents to remember children often model their behavior after adults. Parents need to act the same with a child who has special needs, as they would with a child who does not have special needs. This includes avoiding outdated words, such as "crippled," "retarded," and "handicapped."

A simple way to do this is to remember the Golden Rule and treat everybody the way you would like to be treated. "Children learn a lot of things from what their parents do. If they see that their parents are setting a good example and including people, then they'll carry that on too," said Kristy Hayes, Occupational Therapist at The Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital.

While it's okay for children to recognize everyone is different, therapists note it's more important children focus on similarities. Parents should talk to their children about what a classmate with a special need has in common with others, such as their age, school, hobby or favorite sport. "Let your children know that everyone does things differently and that is alright. Everybody brushes their teeth differently and it's not wrong. We all do things differently, so it's the same when it comes to differences in mobility or communication," said Kelly Whitehead, Occupational Therapist at The Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital.

If a child stares and asks, "What's wrong with that boy?" parents should simply explain the boy walks or communicates in a different way, but he also loves basketball and to play videogames, just like they do.

Both parents and children need to be aware of their reactions to people with special needs. If a child begins to stare or ask detailed questions, offer to help him or her find answers at home. It's important for parents to encourage their children to ask questions, but to do it in a respectful way. "If the parent notices their child is starring, they can address it later on, and say, 'Hey, I saw you looking at that boy in the wheelchair. Do you have any questions?' This will give your child an opportunity to ask you questions about something they might not understand," said Hayes.

Along with teaching children awareness and sensitivity, parents should not allow any jokes or bullying of children with special needs. Children with special needs are more likely to be bullied, so it's important parents explain to their children how certain words and actions can be extremely hurtful to another child's feelings.

"If your child does say something unkind, it's important to have them apologize and see the situation from all sides," said Whitehead.

To learn more about the services offered at The Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital, please click here:

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