A Child’s Curiosity

The other evening, while walking and talking with Alexandra, my 11-year-old granddaughter, we were discussing summer plans and goals. Alexandra shared with me one of her goals is to read 20 minutes each day during summer break. I inquired as to what book she was currently reading, which is Mocking Bird by Kathryn Erskine. 

Alexandra had purchased the book at the most recent school book fair. She was initially drawn to it by the cover design of the soft copy. She assumed she was getting a book in which the central theme or character would be about a mocking bird. To her surprise, she found it is not. She told me that, as she began to read the book, she was surprised but not disappointed at all.

The main character in the book is Katilyn, an 11-year-old girl, who is a bright student and artist learning to navigate life after the death of her older brother. Alexandra spoke of some of the life challenges facing the main character and then mentioned Katilyn had something called “Asperger’s”.

I responded by telling her I know what Asperger’s is and actually know several people diagnosed with it. I asked Alexandra if she knew what Asperger’s is, and she didn’t but thought it might be something like Autism. What an opportunity, a teachable moment in which to expand disability awareness.

I explained Asperger’s as a condition where a person’s brain processes information differently from individuals without Asperger’s, and the person oftentimes has difficulty understanding social situations, such as making friends. I explained people with Asperger’s are as different as she and I in our interests, likes, and dislikes. I shared with her people often think children with Asperger’s and those on the Autism spectrum don’t want friends, which is untrue; most of those children simply do not understand how to create and maintain friendships. Just like in the book, Katilyn received support from her counselor on navigating friends and relationships.

I continued to answer my granddaughter’s questions – the whole series of “But, why?” - with the best, most succinct answers I could provide, the entire time weaving in the idea that all children have a desire to be loved, valued and included. All are unique with strengths and abilities, created by a loving gracious God, a God who is perfect and all He creates reflects His image. 

Tips for Talking with School-Age Children about Disability

 1.       Create opportunities and environments for open dialogue; welcome and encourage such conversations.

2.       Answer questions matter of factly, giving appropriate level of information based on the age of child.

3.       Choose words carefully; stay clear of words or phrases with negative connotations, e.g. retardation, crippled and handicapped.

4.       Practice “people first” language, such as “child with Autism” or “classmate with Down Syndrome” instead of “autistic kid” or “Downs child”.

5.       Accentuate similarities and common interests/ground, as children with disabilities are more similar to typical children than they are different.

6.       Talk about each child’s strengths and positive qualities.

7.       Celebrate diversity – in ability levels, racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

8.       Acknowledge how boring life would be if we are all exactly the same. Variety is the spice of life.

9.       Foster inclusive friendships. All children desire friends; some children just have more challenges in making them. Friendships boost self-esteem, confidence and independence in all children.

Remind children all kids are a unique masterpiece created by a loving God.

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