Growing up, I was never really exposed to children who had disabilities. The kids in my elementary school in the 1970s who had Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy were in a separate classroom, and we rarely saw them. And while I remember very clearly my parents talking about race, religion and sexuality, we never talked much about disabilities.
Sure, we were told that it wasn’t polite to stare, or ask a lot of questions. But that was the extent of the conversations.
We’ve come a long way. Now, many children with intellectual or developmental disabilities are in the same public school classrooms as their typically developing peers, for part, if not all, of the day. There are entire months set aside for autism and Down syndrome awareness, and plenty of blogs out there about parenting a child with disabilities. It’s become part of the mainstream.
But because we didn’t grow up with a lot of exposure to people with different abilities, many parents today struggle with how to talk to their kids about disabilities, according to Michelle Sie Whitten, the executive director of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.