If you’ve read my post about our families Olympics obsession, Olympic Fever and our trip to London 2012 to see the Olympic Swimming Marathon, you’ll know how we’ve gone from being non-sport watchers, to heavily supporting Team GB and loving every second of the tv footage. So it was no surprise that today, with the start of the Paralympics, that our five year old daughter started asking questions. She wanted to know why the Olympics was starting again, and what was the difference between the Olympics and the Paralympics.

So how do you explain disability to a five year old? Especially when you aren’t somebody who has experienced disability? There’s a massive danger of explaining it inappropriately or incorrectly. If I use the wrong choice of words it could either lead to confusion, or unintentionally using terms that could be deemed offensive. Explaining disability is further complicated by a five year olds short attention span and their need to have things explained in simplistic terms that they will understand.

So right or wrong, these are the things I said to my five year old in attempt to explain disabilities to her. I really hope that I’ve explained this kindly and correctly. If I’ve made any major faux pas – please do tell me!!! Just remember I am defining a generalised view for a small child – not an older child or adult and am trying to keep it simple. I am also trying to keep war-talk to a minimum as I don’t want to frighten her.

  • There are many different types of disability. Sometimes you can see a person’s disability, and other times you can’t see it.
  • Some people have a disability that they are born with, some people have a disability because they have had an accident or been in the war, and some people have a disability because they have been poorly with a bad illness.
  • One type of disability is that of wheelchair users. They could be in a wheelchair because there might be something wrong with their legs or their back; and sometimes they might not have any legs, might have one leg or might have smaller legs. Sometimes people are in wheelchairs because they are poorly. Mummy was in a wheelchair for a little while when mummy was little. (She knows I had cancer as a child).
  • Sometimes people with no legs or only one leg, don’t go in a wheelchair. Sometimes they use special crutches and sometimes they have special new legs made for them.
  • Some peoples’ disability is that their arms or hands don’t work properly or they might have only one arm, no arms or shorter arms.
  • Another disability is of people who are sight impaired (If not explaining to a child I’d have used “visually impaired”). That means that they can’t see as well as you or sometimes can’t see at all.
  • Other people are hearing impaired. That means they can’t hear as well as you or sometimes can’t hear at all.
  • Sometimes people can have a poorly mind, which means that they think and learn differently to you.

I used the different channels showing Paralympic coverage to give her examples and show her, as I felt visual images would increase her understanding and make the learning process more interesting. So far we’ve watched Paralympic Swimming, Paralympic Cycling and Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball (all in one morning!).

I explained that it’s very important that if she meets somebody with a disability, she must treat them the same as everybody else she knows, and talk to them the same. I explained that people with disabilities are normal people with feelings. I also told her that the people competing in the Paralympics are very very talented, just like the people who were in the Olympics; and that we’d be watching it on tele every day and cheering for TEAM GB again.

I realise I’ve only scratched the surface of this, but when it comes down to it, it’s a very difficult topic to explain to such a small child, but she wants to know and wont give in until she understands… which I think she does now!

Please leave me a comment…

How do you think I did? Did I explain too much/too little?

What would you have said differently?

I don’t want to turn disability into a taboo subject, but have I made any major slip ups in my definition?

Are you watching the Paralympics too? I have people from 64 different countries reading my blog… Which country are you cheering on?

xxx 🙂
Picture taken from Public Domain Pictures by Petr Kratochvil

  1. The Mummy Blogger says:

    Great post and like you I approached this subject with Roo today in much the same was you. We also took some of her favourites dolls and we talked about types of disability by pointing to parts of their bodies. The more we openly talk about subjects such as disability with our children the less stigma there will be around it.

    • crazywithtwins says:

      Thankyou for commenting.
      I completely agree. I think by ignoring the subject, people make it a taboo subject. I want my children to grow up with a mature understanding of the world and the people around us. I hope they grow up treating everybody equally and fairly, without discriminating against anyone, for gender, race, religeon, disability, sexuality, etc

  2. Pippa says:

    I think you did well! I used to work for Paralympics GB and I have a 5 year old so I say good job. For info the deaf aren’t in these games, they have a deaflympics!

    • crazywithtwins says:

      Yeah I wasn’t sure whether hearing impaired were in Paralympics or not, likewise with people who have psychological disabilities, but it was just the principle of explaining different disabilities to her.

      Thankyou for reading and commenting 🙂 x

      • Stephanie says:

        Liked the article – I’m deafened and have a physical disability and am a mum to a 23 month old. Just a note to say that most deaf people don’t like the term ‘hearing impaired’ as it is the medical model on disability. Most people are happy with ‘deaf’.

        • crazywithtwins says:

          Thanks for your comment. I’ve chosen to use the terms I’ve studied at university as universally acceptable. As part of my degree in hospitality management I took a ‘welcome all’ certificate in which we were told we should never use the term “deaf” as its politically incorrect and highly offensive to people who have a hearing impairment but aren’t completely deaf. The same as using the term “blind” would be offensive to someone who is partially sighted. X

  3. Anne Stone (@okesanne) says:

    I read your post and the comments with warmth in my heart, it really is good to see such responsible parents teaching their children about disabilities in a kind and sensitive way. I think you’ve done a good job and I hope your child continues to learn about how some people are different and how it is important to realise that they should be treated the same as anyone else.
    I’m a mum of two autistic children.

    • crazywithtwins says:

      Thankyou for your lovely comment.
      I tried to think very carefully about my choice of words when explaining this to her. Like saying that people with disabilities use their bodies or minds “differently”. But that they are equal to everybody else. I think its important. Xx

    • crazywithtwins says:

      You are completely right on that! It just takes someone to sit down and explain to them.

      After watching Team GB get 2nd in the S12 Swimming final she said “It doesn’t matter that she didnt win, because she tried her best”. The kid totally gets it! 🙂

      Thankyou for your comment x

  4. Lucy says:

    Think you’ve done an amazing job explaining it all – I think some adults would benefit from hearing this too! My eldest is only 3 and it amazes me that she just doesn’t notice when people are different- she sometimes asks about wheelchairs if we see one but that’s it. I think the Paralympics are such a great opportunity to discuss disability, well done you.

    • crazywithtwins says:

      Thankyou for your encouraging comment. I know what you mean, Children don’t notice differences amongst people and when they do, they generally don’t judge or discriminate in the way that some adults do. I feel that the paralympics have come at a great time for us to use them in both initiating and illustrating this conversation. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting. xx

  5. Claire B says:

    During one of our lectures at Norlamd College we used your blog to form part of a seminar with our degree students. The blog is thought provoking and provided an excellent basis for discussion and debate. Thank you for an great teaching resource!

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