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How do you explain SN to your kids?


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#1 Sassy Dingo

Posted 04 February 2013 - 07:24 PM

Some of you may remember a topic was posted a week or so ago, there was a link to an article written by a SN mum. Her son had Down's Syndrome and ADHD (from memory). It was a sort of dos and don'ts for people commenting/noticing her son.

One of her points was stop your children staring and to answer their questions if they ask.

I'm not in this position yet (no 1 hasn't yet arrived) but I've been thinking of what I would say to future child (FC)in that situation.

I have come up with a few scenarios which I think would be appropriate, but I'm struggling to think of what I would say for a SN child (I'm assuming here that the person being pointed out is in ear shot):

*Seeing 2 men/2 women holding hands
FC: Why are those 2 men/ladies holding hands/kissing etc?
Me: You have a mummy and a daddy, some families have 2 daddies and some have 2 mummies

*Seeing first black person/indian/asian or another racial mix
FC: Mum, why is that person black?
Me: People come in all sorts of colours, isn't that nice? Only white would get boring wouldn't you think?

*Seeing person in wheelchair
FC: Mum, why is that person in a moving chair? What's wrong with them?
Me: Some people's legs don't work properly, so they use a chair with wheels to get around.

I'm struggling to think of what I would say if future child commented on someone with DS - I'm assuming it would be the features that would prompt a comment. I can't really think of a way that is simple to understand (without mentioning chromosones etc) but I don't really want to say that they're different or imply that there is something wrong with that person.

Same problem with a child with behavioural problems having a meltdown or something. Would "Some children get overexcited/overwhelmed and act out when they're upset" be ok? What if they just noticed that their friend at school was just a bit different - such as with ASD or a related disorder?

So EB, how would you/have you dealt with questions regarding a child noticing SN?

#2 jantastic

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:02 PM

I don't mean to be rude... but I think you're overthinking things a bit.

#3 Nataliah

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:08 PM

I think its a great thing to be thinking about, I'd be interested in people's thoughts too.

#4 Acidulous Osprey

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:09 PM

It's a very privileged position you are assuming there, OP,  after all there's no guarantee your child won't have SN.

And yes, overthinking it.    Some kids don't ask those questions because it's just their normal.  I've never had to explain same sex couple FE as my kids grew up with that as normal.

#5 Alpha_Chook

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:12 PM

We were at the shops one day and there was a lady in a motorised wheelchair type thing....>Eamon looked then said out loud "I need that one mummy, it goes faster than my pram"

There was a Sudanese gentleman in Woolies one day and Eamon goes "Mummy, that mans brown, like chocolate", poor guy couldn't get away quick enough

#6 lynneyours

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:15 PM

My DD's have lots of carers of different nationalities at their daycare.  They don't notice the difference.  People are people to them.  

DD's have seen people in wheelchairs - when 3, DD1 asked "how come that man gets to sit down and I have to walk.  I want a chair with wheels too."  I simply said "he has to use the chair because his legs don't work, yours do so you have to walk".  No more questions, re why they didn't work.

People of the same sex holding hands DOES.NOT.REGISTER.  to them.  Again - those are adult concepts.  DD2 has a boy with 2 dads in her class.  Some of the kids have no dad. To her it's the same as having 2 grandparents or 2 aunties.

They HAVE noticed a few children here and there who are very obviously disabled and when they question, I answer simply.  
ie a child being fed through a nasal tube - "that is how he gets his food, because he can't eat".  "why, Mummy?"  "because that is the way he was made".  Similar answer for disabled child, I said "he is just acting that way because he has hurt his brain and doesn't know it isn't right".  

They usually don't question differences to be honest.

ETA - They did once comment on a very, very dark skinned man who they literally ran into - he was very tall and skinny, so I assume quite imposing to someone less than 1m tall.  I just again said "that is the way he was made".

Edited by lynnemine, 04 February 2013 - 08:19 PM.


#7 BellaMoja

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:22 PM

I was at the hospital or hospitidal as my 2yo dd says original.gif and she noticed a man who was covered in a black burns suit, head to toe.

DD said "whats that mummy?" unfortunately he was in ear shot in the waiting room. I said "it's a man" softly praying he wouldn't hear. I tried to distract her with my phone but she kept looking and asking me. sad.gif I was sad for him but wasn't sure what else to say to stop her asking me.

Any ideas?

#8 2bundles

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:23 PM

I'm with Balzac. Thinking about what to say about another child's bad behaviour....umm maybe that will be your child.

If I have to answer, I will tell you that I have answered my kids with something along the lines of "some kid's brains work a little differently" or "some kids don't cope well with being at the supermarket/shop/park etc", "everyone is good at something and everyone has things they are not so good at".



#9 2bundles

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:25 PM

Bellamojo - why didn't you tell her it was a burns suit to help his skin heal?

#10 firstatforty

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:26 PM

My son has aytism and speech problems. He's only 5 and ask all sorts of questions about everyone he sees. I'm trying to teach him that people are not strange, just different and the world is made up of lots of different people. Also because we are different we do things for different reasons.

#11 Julie3Girls

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:29 PM

It's hard because you never know what kids will notice, and what sort of questions they will come out with original.gif

Different colour skin didn't register at all with my girls. No different to people having different colour hair.
Never had any questions about same sex couples either.

Explaining SN can be hard, because there are so many different ways that can show up in people.
Physical differences can be explained by simply saying they were born that way. Behavioural issues can be a little bit harder.
We have a friend, her two boys are SN, and yes, I've needed to explain to my girls.
"X's brain works a little bit differently to a lot of people. It means he is really smart with some things, and there are some other things he has a bit more trouble with. "  (his mum thought this was fine). It was specific to him, and DD2 who had asked understood straight away "Oh, like he is really smart at maths, but won't talk to people and hates loud noises."

I also borrowed a book "All cats have aspergers" which was really helpful with my girls. I did because this is a friend who we see a lot of, so the girls were needing an explanation for some things.

I wouldn't bother planning out an exact answer. Just try and answer honestly, and remember that little kids often aren't after a lot of detail when they ask something. Start with a simple answer. If they ask more questions, you can follow up.

Edited by Julie3Girls, 04 February 2013 - 08:34 PM.


#12 Feral Madam Mim

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:30 PM

We have had the different skin colour and same sex discussion with DS1

The different skin colours I just said that it depends on where you come from as to what colour skin you have and left it at that

Same sex couples, we just said that two boys or two girls can love each other just like Daddy and I do, the only bit I was a bit stumped with was when he asked why they can't get married if they love each other, no sensible answer for that one ( I didn't think "because the government is run by a bunch of idiots" was acceptable for a child to hear).

Edited by mad madam mim, 04 February 2013 - 08:31 PM.


#13 kadoodle

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:34 PM

I guess it's the same as when your kid points out an overweight person, or one with a mohawk.  You just answer quietly and (age appropriate) honestly, then redirect.  Remind them not to stare or point, if necessary.  

I did have to intervene once when I was out with a girlfriend, her DS and my DS1.  DS1 was trying to explain to his friend about skin colour and the absorbtion of vitamin D after a dark skinned man sat down at the table beside us with some fish for lunch.

#14 laridae

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:36 PM

I don't think little kids really notice these things.
I know there are kids & carers of all colours at my DDs daycare, so I don't think she'll ask until she is quite a bit older.
I doubt she'd consider anything about same-sex couples, any more than she thinks of opposite sex ones.
She's seen a kid with Down's - again, not really noticable, all kids look different anyway.
She has seen someone on a mobility scooter - I don't think she though anything but it was some kind of cool bike!


I do remember my little brother in the supermarket when he was really little, pointing at a black man and asking why he was dirty, but it was really uncommon to see someone with that skin tone where we lived back then - these days its not unusual at all.

Oh - and my DD did notice a guy with a mohawk on our bus once.  She gave a big smile and called him a horse  rolleyes.gif  I thought it was a pretty good description...

Edited by laridae, 04 February 2013 - 08:40 PM.


#15 BellaMoja

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:42 PM

QUOTE (2bundles @ 04/02/2013, 09:25 PM)
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Bellamojo - why didn't you tell her it was a burns suit to help his skin heal?


I sort of froze 2bundles, as I was so conscious of the mans feelings. I didnt want her to keep asking questions. Also I didn't want her to start saying "the man is burnt" or similar in a loud voice. I could have said this if she was older though.

#16 zogee

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:42 PM

The only times so far it's happened to us (and my dd asks eleventy billion questions a day) was once at daycare and once out in public. The daycare kid has a support worker (not sure of proper term) and Zoe said 'that's X, he's always naughty and hits kids..." So I explained to her later not to call other kids naughty. And I just said maybe he needs extra help at daycare with some stuff. She accepted that happily. The other situation was a man with dwarfism and she (quietly) pointed out his appearance.i just said well we're all different sizes and we all look different etc and again that was adequate.

#17 Sassy Dingo

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:49 PM

Thanks Ladies. I think I was overthinking it - I'm at home with nothing to do waiting for baby to arrive and I spend my time thinking up all sorts of scenarios about future interactions with baby. The brain works different sounds like a winner. I was thinking of something along those lines, but I thought using different might be offensive to some people.

Of course I realise that baby could have special needs too, but even if it did, it wouldn't have all of them - as in unlikely to have Down syndrome, ADHD, ASD, dwarfism or any other SN all at once. So even if it did have one type of SN, nothing to stop baby noticing other types.



#18 Kay1

Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:53 PM

I also think you are overthinking it somewhat.

My son is 7 and has never ever noticed or commented on different skin colours or features. Not even when we went to Fiji. It just doesn't register. Half his friends are asian and when I mentioned that one of their mums was Chinese he was like "Oh REALLY!?".

Similarly he has two friends with ASD and has never commented or asked about anything to do with them. He knows one of them is a bit 'angry' sometimes and can lash out but he just accepts that's him.

When he was 5 he asked loudly in a lift why a lady was in a wheelchair. The lady was very kind and explained to him that her legs didn't work and that's why she needed a wheelchair.

The only time he has reacted was when we saw a man with very obvious cerebral palsy. He actually laughed because he thought the man was intentionally pulling silly faces to him and he wanted to go and talk to him. Fortunately it was very busy and I don't think the man noticed DS so I kept walking and when we were out of sight/earshot explained that the man could not control his face and movements. I acknowledged that it did look a bit funny but that it would hurt his feelings if he heard DS say that. He wanted to know why so we talked about brain messages etc and that was that.

I was a bit horrified when he came home and told me that a teacher at school told them a boy had 'brain damage'. This boy does have special needs of some sort but I really thought it could have been better explained to the children.

Edited by Kay1, 04 February 2013 - 08:56 PM.


#19 CallMeFeral

Posted 04 February 2013 - 09:03 PM

I don't think overthinking it is a bad thing. Especially with all the offence that seems to be caused, as per that article mentioned by the OP, when people don't KNOW how to answer these questions when they come up. Sure some kids won't notice or comment, others will.
Mine have never noticed differences in skin colour, and we've probably never seen any same sex couples behaving demonstratively, so I don't know if it would register on DD's radar.

She did see a boy with Down's syndrome at the shops and asked about the "silly boy" - I think she thought he was intentionally making a funny face or something. I told her he wasn't silly, he was just different, like everybody is different from each other.
I would be interested to know what the 'correct' answer would have been, given all the attention and sighing and huffing and puffing an 'incorrect' answer gets. So I think the OP's question is a good one.

OP, one of my thoughts in reading your post is your use of the words 'black' and 'white'. Very few people actually are those colours, so you might want to avoid creating those dichotomies in your child's language. As a PP said, what we tend to call black is really a lot more like, say, chocolate. DD went through a phase of being quite interested in people's colour and was going through whether they were like dark chocolate, normal chocolate, coffee, or cream.
My dad always used to say that my mum was brown and he was pink-and-blotchy. It was apt.

I did go to the beach with my niece during a phase when she was very racially focused. Cue us sitting at the steps at Coogee when she said loudly "There's too many Chinese here..." (and I try to melt into the sand...)  blink.gif

#20 Tetinks

Posted 04 February 2013 - 09:13 PM

QUOTE
It's a very privileged position you are assuming there, OP, after all there's no guarantee your child won't have SN.

Yep yep yep. Sorry but your post struck me as a bit, IDK, smug maybe??

FWIW my youngest has a disability. Not once has a child asked about it. Adults - they stare and whisper. Occasionally they make stupid, condescending and belittling comments ('did you know before she was born?',  'What a shame' etc).

I think it's adults who need to be educated, not our kids.

#21 Ducky*Fuzz

Posted 04 February 2013 - 09:30 PM

I never thought too much about those questions until my kids started talking.

I was at the children's hospital with my then 4 year old when she asked why a little girl looked funny.  I said "she doesn't look funny, she looks like a little girl".  

I felt terrible as I know her mum had heard and she kept persisting with her questions.  I later explained that everyone looks different and some babies are born with problems with their faces and doctors make sure they are healthy.  That will probably offend someone but it was the best I could give her at the time.  

I also explained that we can't ask questions like that out loud because it might hurt someone's feelings and if she wants to ask a question about a person, she needs to whisper.


#22 sāta kōrsa

Posted 04 February 2013 - 09:58 PM

I wouldn't have a clue if a child having a tantrum at the shops has SN or not (unless it's my child having the tantrum, which wouldn't surprise me) but it's none of my business.  Whenever we've seen a child having a meltdown and DS has asked 'Why are they crying?', I just say 'maybe they're feeling sad' or 'maybe they're tired' as we keep going.

We have a large variety of racial differences in our family through marriage and among our friends and DS has not once commented on it.  His Aunties/Uncles/cousins/friends are just who they are.

OP, yeah I think you're over thinking things a little even though I'm sure you mean well.  You don't want to offend anyone, I get it, but I don't think a great deal of hand wringing is necessary when answering questions from our children about people who look or act different from the 'norm'.  It's pretty easy - don't be rude, don't point or stare, don't say insensitive things.  If you're a kind, decent, empathetic person with basic social skills, you'll be fine.

#23 Guest_~Karla~_*

Posted 04 February 2013 - 10:21 PM

QUOTE (claireabell @ 04/02/2013, 09:13 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Yep yep yep. Sorry but your post struck me as a bit, IDK, smug maybe??

FWIW my youngest has a disability. Not once has a child asked about it. Adults - they stare and whisper. Occasionally they make stupid, condescending and belittling comments ('did you know before she was born?',  'What a shame' etc).

I think it's adults who need to be educated, not our kids.


I find other kids ask me all the time about my twins. Things like "why can't he talk properly?", " why does he look like that?", "why does he do that?", "Why can't he eat normal food?" etc.

The difference with kids is that they accept an answer while adults expect a full explanation. IME, with my kids and other peoples kids, kids will notice differences and will ask about them. But a simple explanation like "he just hasn't learnt all the sounds yet" or "his brain just works a bit differently to yours" or "he gets sick if he eats chocolate/milk/bread/cake/lollies etc" is suffice for a kid. Their parents however like to drill me about if there's any family history, how do I do it etc.

#24 Justaduck

Posted 04 February 2013 - 10:22 PM

I thought it was a good question OP original.gif

I have worked in childcare and we have had kids from all different backgrounds come through & one of the workers was Chinese, plus we had a ton of multicultural things...in fact more dolls and props from other cultures than Caucasian ones. We have had children ask why a dark skinned child was so "dirty." They just thought that the boy mentioned had been playing in the dirt and not had a bath, so while the term came across from them as sounding harsh it was completely innocent.

We have said to children who ask about other children with SN (obviously depends on the scenario) thing along the lines as just like they need help (doing puzzles, writing their name etc) that the other child needs some help (making new friends, climbing up the fort) etc...obviously age appropriate

I guess it is no different to asking questions about someones weight, I remember Dad had a friend who was obese and my brother, being about 4 or 5 at the time asked the friend why he was so fat. My parents were mortified and embarrassed by it

#25 Acidulous Osprey

Posted 04 February 2013 - 11:20 PM

I am finding it very hard to believe that any child growing up in Brisbane is so sheltered or so stupid that they would think a child of colour was dirty and needed a bath.




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