Talking with Kids About Their Disability

What to say when your child asks, "Why am I different?"

Two Boys Laughing at Each Other

As he gets older, your child will inevitably have questions ("Why am I different?" "Will I be able to do the things my brothers do?"), but "he may not be able to articulate them," says Barbara Cheadle, founder of the National Organization of Blind Children.

Left unaddressed, questions can blossom into misunderstandings. Cheadle cites the example of blind children she's encountered who believed they would "grow out of it" because no one told them otherwise.

Siblings, too, benefit from straight talk, says author Mary McHugh, who grew up with a brother with cerebral palsy. "Parents are often so busy that they forget to sit down and explain things to the family," she says.

A fear of "catching" the disability, or guilt at having somehow caused it, are common reactions. But, says McHugh, communication -- giving the disability its proper name and explaining what that means -- can head off anxieties.

Sandy Taboda, who has always talking honesty about her son Michael's blindness, says that for him and his younger brother, Robert, it's just one of Michael's many characteristics: "He has brown hair, he's eight years old, he's blind."

Leslie Garisto Pfaff is a writer in Nutley, New Jersey, who writes often about family issues.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2002.