Every child and infant at EC3 has the right to participate in a broad range of activities as full-fledged members of families, communities and society. A classroom filled with students who have a variety of abilities and disabilities provides the unique possibility for our children to learn endless empathy, kindness and justice.
Children who are surrounded by such an environment learn that a truly inclusive community is based on mutual adaptation, not special accommodation. People with different disabilities want to feel included, not pitied. How do we give children the chance to practice mutual respect and inclusion?
1. To reduce fear and minimize the perception of differences as “strange,” give children concrete information about the specific disability of their peer using “people-first language.”
Example: “Jack is a person with autism,” rather than “Jack is autistic.”
2. Explain to able-bodied kids that we use “people-first language” so they have the tools to speak with their friends with disabilities.
Example: Talking to an able-bodied child we can tell them, “We wouldn’t say, ‘brown haired Poppy,’ we would just say ‘Poppy has brown hair.’ See how you come first, before your hair? We do the same for our friends with different abilities.”
3. Highlight the skills, interests and talents of children with a disability so able-bodied children see them as able peers, not as someone to feel sorry for.
Example: “Eleanor uses a wheelchair to help her get around, and she is very good at coloring in the lines, just like you.”
4. Focus on ABILITY rather than disability, but do so without avoiding the disability entirely—particularly if it’s obvious to your child. If you don’t acknowledge what your able-bodied child is witnessing about his/her disabled peer, they may perceive the disability as something “weird,” or something to be feared. As with issues of race, giving children the tools to talk about people with different abilities will help build understanding.
Overall, we want all children at EC3 to grow and prosper in a loving, safe environment that they can feel part of. Do you have any other ways to talk to kids, or questions about these topics?
For more learning, here’s a roundup of resources and more information on our series this week:
Talking to Kids About Race—Early Childhood
Disability Awareness and Inclusive Practices
Early Childhood Inclusion
Creating Welcoming Environments for LGBT Families in Early Childhood Settings
Diversity in Early Childhood Programs