Avoiding bias: why educating adults on disabilities is not just important but necessary
Updated: Jun 4
For children with difficulties, it is common to be excluded in the school setting, social setting, and more––and it needs to be addressed
Image Source: Sharon McCutcheon
When it comes to being a parent of a child with special needs, there are many difficulties and challenges. Oftentimes their children are penalized as a result of other parents’ own biases. From gaps in their children's care in the school setting, social setting, medical setting, and more, many parents believe it is essential to speak about the lack of inclusion.
One of the biggest challenges parents face is being excluded.
A large barrier that parents of special needs children or children with difficulties often claim to encounter is inclusion. Whether in the classroom, on the playground, in a grocery store, or even in their own front yard, parents witness their children being unfairly treated just because they can look, talk, or act differently than other children.
Children may be quick to point out the differences in their special needs peers out of curiosity, as they are still learning. However, the true danger is when other parents do not attempt to explain why they are different, but rather perpetuate their prejudices through judgmental comments or stares.
These adults have they have the ability and knowledge to instill acceptance in their kids. Instead, they have chosen to respond in harmful ways, inflicting their own internal biases onto the next generation.
One parent on Reddit explains that their child, who has Down Syndrome, is often ostracized by the parents of children his age. Some will hush their inquisitive children; others will take one look and drag them away.
Educating children often starts with educating their parents.
Parents of children with special needs are often more than willing to their child’s disabilities in conversations. Many to educate other parents and children on what it means to be disabled and how it is okay to be different. Each child is unique in their own way––regardless of if they have a disability. Special needs children still enjoy the same movies, want to play the same board games, and listen to the same music.
Children are observant.
If parents are outwardly uncomfortable with children with challenges, their kids will be influenced to follow suit. All adults and children can benefit from educating themselves on these issues in instances when it matters most––to avoid excluding or ostracizing other special needs children and making them feel poorly. Regardless of disability, all children deserve the same level of acceptance, happiness, and support to grow confident in themselves and their capabilities.
Image Source: CottonBro
What are some tips for parents to teach their children about disabilities?
Infants as young as two years old are wise enough to recognize another child's physical or mental difference. It is essential to begin teaching children about these challenges as early as possible.
One way to do this would be to purchase or make children's books that have representation of children with difficulties. For younger children, reading these books to children will help normalize disabilities so that when they encounter another child with these challenges in the future, they will not be caught off guard and filled with questions. For older children, watching movies or shows with the representation of disabled people is just as effective.
In addition to reading and watching content and media that represents children and young adults––or even adults––with difficulties, it is crucial to have meaningful and comprehensible conversations about what it means to be disabled and what that might look like for different people. This conversation is essential to start having once children reach a certain age––around ten years old.
Conversations with children and young adults about these challenges can highlight several different factors. Identifying concrete similarities and differences, balancing curiosity and respect, and humanizing others are all focus points to discuss with younger children. With older children and young adults, discussing emotional thinking, conflicted feelings, and social structures to help ease the confusion of encountering prejudice and other harmful ways of thinking towards those with difficulties.
Shifting the attention towards empathy and kindness, how to interact with these people, and addressing their social exclusion will be vital as they grow through their teen years and beyond.