It was a no brainer that I would have this discussion with my own children. My youngest has a developmental disability and by age 5 it was becoming apparent to both my older children that he was not keeping up with them.
I was so sad but my kids were incredibly upbeat. I told them in simple terms that their brother was probably not going to be as smart as them in school. My daughter immediately piped in that her younger brother was very smart about some things just not “book” things. I was at a loss at what else to say so, I asked them what they wanted to know about their brother. I could’ve given a long and involved discussion about their brother’s disability but would it have been meaningful to them?
Did they ask how long he would live, would he get married or have children? No they wanted to know if he would be able to play with his friends and go to school as long as he needed to. I easily answered these questions with a yes.
Did they want to know if he would go to university? No they wanted to know how he would manage at school. I told him his teacher had him in a special class with lots of help. I told them he was getting an aide, who would be with him all the time.
They asked if other kids would tease him. I replied honestly that probably there would be times he would be teased and people might not be nice to him. I told them we might have to help him out so that people didn’t take advantage of him. I told them that I still loved him no matter what and I would always make sure he was okay.
Both my children said they hoped I would do that for them as well. Yes, I replied and added that all this meant was, that they were my children and it was my job to protect them, teach them and take care of them no matter what. I would be there always whenever they needed me. It was just that when they got older they might not need me as much as their brother would.
I guess what I did learn was that instead of giving them all sorts of information that they might not need or understand, I asked them what they wanted to know. I told them that if they ever had any other questions about their brother all they had to do was ask.
What I noticed was that they often would ask their brother what his experience was like. For example if we went somewhere my older children would discreetly ask their little brother if he understood what was going on or what was being said. By letting them lead the discussion about their brother’s disability I opened the door to them taking charge of finding out what their brother needed and understood.
I also noticed that as they grew to be young adults they were far more understanding of others disabilities. Being considerate and understanding came so naturally to them it was a beautiful to see them act in a caring manner with others who had disabilities.
When my little guy started school I told the teachers to approach their students with the same spirit of understanding. That the other children didn’t need to or want to know all the details of what was different about my son. They just wanted to know if he would play with them.
Please take the time to check out this organization, who’s philosophy is all about treating children with a disability in an inclusive manner: All Kids Can