This brief guide is for people to know what to expect and what to do when they meet someone with a disability. I hope this will help you understand better the wide disability spectrum and avoid making people with disabilities feel uncomfortable.
As the mother of a girl with a disability, it is common to notice that other children (without the intention to be mean), stare at my daughter's face with curiosity, trying to understand her physical appearance: the little "unfamiliar" face that accompanies the "baby talk."
I understand that children are curious by nature, but sometimes their parents don’t know how to teach them to understand another child that seems to be different.
On other occasions, I’ve heard or seen people complaining about "unacceptable" children's behavior, such as throwing tantrums; or their inability to stay still; or because they “talk to themselves”; refuse to make eye contact when talked to; or for making “weird noises.” Some disabilities like ADHD or autism are specially hard to understand, because those children don’t have evident physical features that signal they are disabled.
This is why I decided to write this brief guide for people to know what to expect and how to react when they meet someone with a disability. I hope this will help you understand better the wide disability spectrum and avoid making people with disabilities feel uncomfortable.
What to do?
Stop using words like “retarded”
People with an intellectual disability are very capable, the only difference is that it takes a little longer for them to reach their goals. The best thing to do is be patient. Maybe you’ll have to repeat more than once, but do it with respect.
Be gentle and respectful
Above everything they are people: be gentle and respectful. Remember that all human beings have the right to be respected and to be treated in the best possible way.
Talk to them, not about them
Most of the time people ask me my daughter’s name when she is present (as though they were asking me my pet’s name). I just look at her in the eye and ask her to reply, so she can respond for herself. It is the best way to teach them self-advocacy skills.
When you don’t know about a condition, ask questions. I know that many parents like me prefer to answer with appropriate information, and it gives us the chance to promote inclusion.
What not to do
Don't pity them
Don’t be or act sorry for a person with a disability. They are very resilient and strong, and they are able to achieve any goal they set their sights on.
Don't judge or label them
Don’t judge or define any child as “angel” or “spoiled.” You can never know how challenging it is parenting a child with a disability.
Don't ignore or avoid them
Don’t ignore anyone if they talk to you, and don’t make your children avoid a child with a condition. Disabilities are not diseases, and they don’t spread like a virus.
Don't underestimate them
Don’t underestimate a person with a condition, don’t treat an adult like a child, and don’t assume they don't understand what's going on. They can fool you and take advantage of this situation without you knowing it.
Don't stare at a person with a visible disability, it will make them feel uncomfortable and insecure. Teach your children to see disabilities as something natural; talk and encourage them to talk and play with children with disabilities, it is the best way to make big changes in our world.
Cover photo: @youarethefocuscommunitycare
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