As your toddler grows and becomes a preschooler, she’s likely to start asking questions about why some kids are different. Questions often come up when you’re in the grocery store or when she comes home from preschool or daycare. “Mommy, that man has something in his ear” or “Why can’t my friend talk or walk?” Many communities set aside an Ability Awareness Day, which varies by state but typically occurs between August and November. These local community days provide an ideal opportunity to teach your children about these differences, but should focus on what others can do rather than what they can’t do. Activities that focus on the disability, such as using a blindfold to show what it’s like to be blind, tend to cause more fear and confusion in children rather than help them understand the disability. Activities that focus on positive abilities will help your preschooler build stronger relationships and focus less on the disability.
Alike and Different
Play a game in the mirror or make a poster together that shows how people are both the same and different. Stand side by side in front of a mirror and take turns describing something that is the same. “I’m a girl and you’re a girl. What’s something else that makes us the same?” “You’re right, we both have brown hair. Now let’s see how we’re different.” You can also play this game with siblings. Be careful not to compare the children to one another and keep the focus on similarities and differences, such as hair and eye color, height, and things they like and dislike. You can also make a poster of similarities and differences using family photographs or pictures in magazines.
Sensory games can help your preschooler learn about the five senses and how they can use those senses to identify the same item. Again, focus on the ability, rather than the disability. Choose an item that can be easily identified by at least two different senses, such as broccoli for site and smell or a book for touch and sound. Have her hold and touch the items and ask her to describe what it looks, sounds and feels like. “Now, close your eyes and tell me what this is, using only your hands, ears and nose.” Another game you can play involves silent communication. Show your child how some people communicate using gestures, sign language or by drawing pictures and playing games like Pictionary. Take turns using hand gestures to tell what you want or how you feel, such as pointing to your open mouth to eat. You can also teach her simple sign language for things like using the bathroom and other basic gestures.
By now, your preschooler has probably figured out that her physical abilities are different from others as well. Maybe her friends or brother can run faster than she can but she can jump higher. Show her different assistive devices such as a wheelchair, walker, crutches, canes and other items that help with mobility. Have her try to use them if possible and explain to her how they help people get around. Play games such as “Simon Says,” the “Hokey Pokey” and other games that focus on physical abilities.
In the Community
Visit local organizations that help people with disabilities to learn more about assistive devices that help people do things like everyone else. When you go out to the grocery store or other public place, talk about the ramps next to the stairs, special parking spaces and motorized carts. “How do you think this helps someone in a wheelchair? What else can you find that helps people?” Read a book, such as "A Service Dog Goes to School" by Elizabeth Simpson Smith or "Dog Heroes: Service Dogs" by Linda Tagliaferro, then visit a training center that works with assistance and service dogs. Check with your local library for local community "Read to a Dog" events that allow your child to meet and read to service dogs.
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