March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. CP is the most common motor development disorder and affects just under 1% of all children. For some children, their CP is so mild that they can function like all children do. For others, they may need the help of a walker or wheelchair and have difficulty communicating. In honor of all the children (including my daughter) who have CP, I wanted to share what we do to educate our children and many we come in contact with as we parent our youngest child.
Use “people first” language. Instead of referring to a child by their condition (or Eve is the “handicapped child” as we sometimes hear), try to find another way to describe them. “John is the boy we met at the park. He was wearing a green shirt and he gave the best high 5s”. Or if you do refer to their condition, make sure to say “Eve is the child who has CP”. Model this speech for your children so they learn to view every child as a person first, not their condition.
It’s ok to ask questions. Little ones are curious and that is perfectly fine. I prefer a questions over stares or parents hushing their children like something is wrong. I usually explain that Eve uses a wheelchair because her legs get tired easily and this is how she gets to places the easiest. Children usually love her light up wheels and the decals we have on her chair. If your child asks a question, don’t feel bad, it’s nothing new. Just model a compassionate way to ask a question and your child may gain a really awesome friend.
Include people of all abilities into your everyday life. Many children who have different abilities and their families feel lonely and isolated. I talk to families online and they wish that their children were invited to playdates and birthday parties. Don’t worry, we will figure out a way to help our child feel included and we have become quite good at adapting activities. When you purchase books and toys, do they feature children who use mobility devices? They may be a bit harder to find, but it may be a great conversation started with your children.
Children who have Cerebral Palsy (or any other different need) are children first and foremost. As March, and CP Awareness Month comes to an end soon, I hope you find a way to discuss this topic with your children.