"The Talk" about your child's disability doesn't have to be formal, one-time-only, high-pressure sit-down. Make that diagnosis part of everyday conversation, and share information on your child's timetable. Here's some how-to help.
Time Required: Little by little as your child grows
- Start Small: Information doesn't have to be shared in one big dump, and your child's special needs never have to be a secret. From the very start, give your child a name for the thing that makes some stuff harder and some stuff special. For very young kids, you can introduce a storybook element, a monster or a troll or a dragon with a name like that diagnosis that your child must tame or battle.
- Tell Stories: Stories can work in another way, too, as you find children's books about your child's disability to share. They can provide you with some good language to use in explaining a complicated disorder, and also prove to your child that other kids wrestle with the same issues. If such a book doesn't exist for your child's particular disability, try creating your own.
- Find Role Models: Knowing other people with the same disability makes the diagnosis much less spooky and isolating. While inclusion is important, it can also be valuable for your child to spend time with other kids with special needs, as well as with older kids and adults who provide living answers to the question of "what will happen to me?"
- Get Your Story Straight: If Mom and Dad have different ideas as to how the child should be told, work it out between you before you have any sort of talk. Mixed signals may be worse than no signals at all, and your child may pick up any tension between the two of you and interpret as his or her fault. As grown-ups, you have the responsibility to figure this out.
- Accentuate the Positive: Though you might wish your child didn't have to deal with disability, don't describe it as a tragedy. Since your child is living with this day in and day out, he or she likely knows what's hard and needs you to shine a light on the brighter side. Be sure to discuss strengths as well as weaknesses, abilities as well as dis-.
- Follow Your Child's Lead: There's no one perfect time to talk to your child about his or her disability. Some kids may have questions earlier than others. Some may seek only a simple definition and others may want more depth. Every child and every family is different, and there's no one right way to do this. Keeping the lines of communication open and the topic out in the light will make sure that whenever your child wants to talk, you'll be ready.
- Forums for parents with your child's disability are a good place to check in and see how others have handled the "telling," and locate resources to help you do that. Consult my listings of resources for some places to look.
- From that resource list, you can also find sites for children with specific disabilities. Older kids may appreciate forums and e-mail lists on which they can communicate with kids who have similar issues.
- Watching TV shows that feature characters with special needs can be good way to get a conversation started with your child. View my listing of special-needs TV shows and entertainment news file for some ideas of what to tune in to.
What You Need
- Children's books about special needs
- A positive attitude
- Role models with your child's disability
- Sensitivity to what your child needs and when