Talking About Disability

Disability is an important aspect of diversity. Whether your child has a disability or not, he or she will share a school community with children who do. Our schools, like our world, are inclusive. That means students with and without disabilities are educated together to the greatest extent possible. Talking to children about disability can help them better understand themselves and their peers. You can find information here to help you get started.

Start the Conversation

Introduce the following concepts:
  • Different people have different abilities – everyone has strengths and also things that are hard for them.
  • We treat all people with respect regardless of their abilities.
  • “Disability” is when someone’s brain or body works in a way that may require tools or strategies to participate in the community.
  • Sometimes peoples’ brains or bodies need extra support to access things in our community.

Give Examples

Give your child examples of some difficulties people with disabilities may have. Share tools or strategies that may assist the person with that difficulty.

  • Someone who cannot see well may need glasses or books with large text.
  • Someone who cannot hear well may use sign language, hearing aids, or watch TV with closed captioning.
  • Someone who gets overwhelmed by lights or sounds might use headphones for a quieter environment, dim the lights to feel calm, or use a fidget or other toy to help them calm down.
  • Someone who has a learning disability or difficulty learning to read or write might use different types of instruction.
  • Someone who has a physical disability might use a wheelchair, a walker, ramps, or automatic doors.
  • Someone who has difficulty with staying calm might learn to how to stay calm with deep breathing or express how they are feeling.
  • Someone who has difficulty making friends might have a lunch bunch or get extra help with making friends.

Other Ideas

  • Encourage your child to write about or draw pictures of tools that can help people with disabilities.
  • Tell your child to say hi and talk to their peers.
  • Remind your child that he or she can talk to the teacher about his or her needs and ask questions about peers.
  • Read a book with a character with a disability. Ask your child questions about the book:
    • What kinds of special tools or help does the character (use the character’s name) with a disability use? How is it helpful for them?
    • What do the other characters learn about the character with a disability throughout the story?
    • What are some examples of activities or interests that the character with a disability is able to participate in, regardless of their disability?
    • How could you be a friend to the character with a disability in the story? What do you have in common with them?

Recommended Children's Books

K-2 Reading Level

  • You Can Be a Friend by Tony and Lauren Dungy (physical disability)
  • My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete (autism spectrum disorder)
  • We’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen (Down syndrome)
  • Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo (vision impairment)
  • Don’t Call Me Special by Pat Thomas (physical disability)

3-5 Reading Level

  • Rules by Cynthia Lord (autism spectrum disorder)
  • Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco (learning disability)

6-8 Reading Level

  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (cerebral palsy)

9-12 Reading Level

  • Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities edited by Donald Gallo
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (autism spectrum disorder)     
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