Knowing what to say when it’s time to talk to your child about differences and disabilities is key to helping young people grow and mature. Dr. Justine Green, author of Completely Me, shows us how it’s done.
Talking to our children about challenging issues is never easy. The first question we often ask ourselves is: Where do I begin?
When bringing up differences with your child, it can seem daunting or uncomfortable. In the past, “Don’t stare,” separate, and ignore were three concepts taught to others about how to interact with people with disabilities.
Thankfully, disability rights in America have evolved significantly over the past 75 years and times have changed! We are working towards a more inclusive, accessible society every day. That starts with having conversations about differences and teaching others about disabilities.
A Personal Story
I was born with Atresia and Microtia. Microtia is a condition where the outer ear does not develop properly and Atresia is the absence of the ear canal, leaving me deaf in my left ear. I had three reconstructive surgeries by the time I was 9 years old. I was in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices all the time growing up. Although I had three surgeries to reconstruct my ear, I was left with an ear that lays flat on my head, making it look as though I’m missing an ear.
Growing up, I felt like a normal kid. I played with my two brothers, loved school, and enjoyed sports. The only time I ever felt different was when others pointed it out. I was always just me. When people would point it out it would make me feel uncomfortable.
It took me a very long time to realize that people just don’t know about differences or how to interact with people with disabilities. That’s why I have made an effort to bridge that gap for both adults and children to have these conversations. My book, Completely Me is about a little girl who never noticed something was missing until others pointed it out. She stands up for herself and teaches the townspeople an important lesson about self-acceptance.
This is a teaching tool, like many other books about differences for children and young adults. Use the books to guide your discussion. Notice the pictures and the feelings in the stories.
You can guide your child with your questions. How do you think it makes her feel when people are pointing at her? Do you think everyone’s special in their own way? She’s proud to be different and unique, how are you different and unique?
If you see someone with a disability, use it as a teachable moment and show your child to be kind. You can always say hi and make a friend! Show them that you speak directly to the individual and not their caregiver. That you treat them with respect and do not touch their support devices. Find commonalities and introduce yourself. In the end, we’re all just people. We want to feel accepted for who we are without others imposing the feeling of incompleteness us.
Teach your child to accept themselves and love themselves. If your child has a disability, it’s important to be an advocate for them and show them how to be an advocate for themselves. Use the tough situations as opportunities to talk about your disability. Be proud of who you are and do not let anyone treat you as less than.
Talking about differences and disabilities is not as difficult as one may presume. Differences are natural, we are all unique. From the words of Dr. Seuss, “There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
Also, the likelihood of someone having a disability at some point in their lives is high. Judy Heumann, the Mother of the Disability Movement, said to Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, “I call you non-disabled because the likelihood of your acquiring a disability, temporarily or permanently, is high.”
Differences should be spoken about and introduced at a young age. You should model and embody this idea of being kind to everyone you meet, regardless of how they look, talk, walk, or move. The next generation of leaders will be watching. Show them that everyone is special in their own ways and try to make the world a little more accepting and accessible for everyone.
About the Author
Justine Green, Ed.D. is an educator, award-winning author, and disability advocate based in Boca Raton, Florida, where she currently serves as the Principal at Tamim Academy. Justine was born with Atresia and Microtia. Microtia is a condition where the outer ear does not develop properly and Atresia is the absence of the ear canal, leaving her deaf in her left ear. Knowing she was different from birth, and boasting three reconstructive surgeries under her belt, Justine learned to read lips and worked hard through school. She used her disability as motivation instead of an excuse, and ultimately found her life’s purpose through these challenges. Her passion for inspiring others moved her to write a story based on her own life, Completely Me, to teach readers to love themselves and others, and that everyone’s imperfections are what make them perfect.