Change My Life: How to Talk to Kids About Disabilities

Some of our family and friends have “disabilities.” Of course, yours do too. My kids ask questions about their friends’ disabilities. Sometimes adults use letters — ADD, ADHD, OCD — to describe these disabilities, other times they use words that mean nothing to kids like Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, Downs Syndrome, Aspergers, Dyslexia, Bi-polar, depression. Usually people talk about these different abilities so negatively. I find this type of thinking limited. I hate that we attach the word “disorder” or “syndrome” to God’s gifts. Has anyone ever met a “normal” person? Does anyone really want to be one?

My kids want to know things like what does the name of these “disorders” mean, what does it mean the kid or adult can and can’t do, what will it mean for their future, will they be okay, should they be pitied, do they need help or special treatment?

I’m not an advocate for any special group, I’m not an educator for any particular disorder, I’m not a specialist on any of these disorders. I’m a parent who wants to tell my kids the truth as I know it, answer their questions and make sure they leave the conversation with respect for the way God chose to make different kinds of people, instead of doing the boring thing and making us all think the same and act the same. I don’t take special care to answer my kids with “political correctness” so if you’re offended, please choose not to take it personally.

Attention Deficit Disorder — ADD and ADHD is the inability to focus or sit still, or at least that’s what the public school system wants you to think. These people are highly creative, have a lot of ideas and find it difficult to focus on one thing. This sometimes makes it hard for them to learn what their teachers want them to learn in school. It makes it hard for them to sit still and be quiet in class, so sometimes they have to take medicine to help them. But, when they grow up, these people will be fantastic salespeople, communicators, marketers, artists and entrepreneurs. They’ll have lots of brilliant ideas and if they can find the right people to implement them before they lose interest, they’ll probably make lots of money.

Autism and Aspergers — These people are born with an ability to think differently than you or I. They have linear engineering minds. If ADD or ADHD is the inability to focus, Autism and Aspergers is the ability to hyper-focus or focus so intently that you almost can’t learn anything else or connect with the people around you. They get fixated on certain things to the point of obsession. Maybe the way things are made or the way things are built. In the school system and society, people interpret this as odd and peculiar. They miss social cues and don’t have a lot of friends, they find it difficult to have deep emotions or make intimate connections with loved ones. But, when they grow up, or even while they are teenagers or older children, they are capable of great leaps of discovery. They might find the gene that cures cancer or make the next leap in technology or computers. They become so focused on one thing to the exclusion of everything else that they are bound to discover or invent something new about it or expand it in some way. They are geniuses.

Downs Syndrome and Mentally Retarded —  These people have brains that don’t develop at what is considered a normal rate. They may have suffered an injury or they may have been born this way. These people are pure and innocent. They connect intimately and they came to teach us how to be vulnerable and love purely.  They find it easy to connect to the Now and stay present and focus on the important things in life. When Jesus said “be like the little children,” these are the people you want to look at to see what he meant. Pure. Innocent. Present. Connected. Open. Vulnerable.

Bi-polar and Depression — These people are highly creative and intuitive. They go up and down in their emotions. Some people stay pretty level all their lives. They don’t have really high highs, they don’t know how great that is — but they don’t know what serious lows are like either. People with “bi-polar disorder” are often actors, artists, musicians, writers, public speakers — extremely creative people who rely on bursts of inspiration to do their work. During times when they don’t have burst of inspiration they experience lows that can be very dark, this is depression. It’s very hard for them because they know how great real ecstasy can be. They are usually brilliantly creative and extraordinarily passionate and often end up famous.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — These people enjoy order. They like for people to take care of their business because, hey they take care of theirs. They can get obsessive about it. They like to clean. They can get freaked out about uncleanliness. They can be control freaks. These people will grow up and be Martha Stewart or that Walsh guy who who helps the Hoarders get rid of their shit and clear out their psyches. They’ll be IKEA designers, it will be awesome. When ADD and OCD people get married there could be balance or massive conflict – you just never know.

Of course I didn’t list every diagnosis or different ways of being in the world. Just the ones that have come up lately with my kids as they have touched our lives with our friends and family.

I would love if you left comments describing your perspective of other “disorders” and “diagnosis” that have touched your lives and how you talk to your kids about them.

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