If your child is struggling in school, he will probably hear about learning styles or learning differences. He may also hear someone use the terms disability or disorder if his struggles continue. It’s important to talk to your child about differences and disabilities. It’s equally important to hear what he’s thinking and feeling.
Don’t think of this as a one-time talk. It’s really a series of talks that happen over time. The way you approach these subjects will have lasting impact on how your child sees himself and others. Here are some key ideas you can weave into your conversations with your child.
“Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.”
A great place to start your conversations is with the idea that differences and disabilities are very common. Even a young child realizes that some people are better at some things than other people. They also know that each person is better at some things than other things. Talk to your child about what you’re really good at and what isn’t as easy for you. Then ask him what he’s good at and what is hard for him.
“A disability is a difference.”
We sometimes use the word disability when a difference keeps someone from doing something others do easily. For younger kids, it helps to use obvious examples. You might consider a person with one leg to be disabled when he needs to stand or walk. But that doesn’t mean he’s disabled at everything. And if he’s doing something he’s good at, you might not think of him as disabled at all.
“Some differences are easily seen, and others are not.”
You can use the example of a woman who has speech issues. If she’s not talking, there’s no way to see she has a disability. She can do many things that other people can do, and her challenges don’t have to limit her. She could be a great athlete, artist or scientist, for instance. These examples will help your child understand that differences and disabilities don’t keep people from succeeding. This is very important because you want your child to see himself and others as capable in many areas despite their challenges.
“It’s OK to talk to me about your concerns.”
The most helpful thing you can do is listen to your child’s questions and concerns. Always respond in honest but reassuring ways. Saying things like, “I’m glad you asked that question” or “I know it can feel uncomfortable to talk about this” can help to put your child at ease about discussing sensitive topics.
“There are things we can do to help.”
It’s very important to address any fears and anxieties your child may have about his issues. Reassure him there are things you and his teacher can do to make life easier at home and at school. Those may include adjusting daily routines, changing expectations at school and teaching him strategies that help him do things better.