By Dr. Heather Hurd
I have been asked many of times, how should I tell my child he/she has a disability? Should I tell them or keep it from them? Around age 8 many children begin to realize that they are different from others. Point blank, without any explanation of why things are hard for them, and are not hard for others they can be at risk for low self-esteem and even some symptoms of depression.
For many children, if they have been to see mental health professionals or have an Individual Education Plan it is highly likely that they already know something is up. And if children have already overheard the word “disability” or another label it is better that they be able to ask questions and receive the
information you want to share with them.
The most important thing about telling a child about his or her disability is to not make it a big deal or scary. A lot of times I say to a child, remember how you go to see Dr. so-and-so to work on ________? Or you know how sometimes __________ is hard for you to do? Well, there is a name for how come that is hard, it is called ___________. If they ask what it is you can say that all people’s brains are different, and that they think a little bit differently because of it.
It is also extremely important that the discussion is mainly strengths-based. This means that you tell your child that he or she is unique and special, and have so many amazing things about them. Boy would the world be a boring place if everyone looks and thinks the same. Also for many children there are certain strategies that they have to use in order to learn or concentrate better. It is actually a strength that they find these out early and can choose to use these helper strategies.
A couple of cautions: First, for highly anxious children they can tend to perseverate on the label or disability and telling them may seem to add more stress for them. I think for these kids it is especially important to consult with a mental health professional when considering this discussion. Second, some children use the label or disability as an excuse for why they can’t do something. “I can’t because of my _________ (i.e. ADHD,
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).” For these children it seems that their self-esteem was already running low, and they are at risk for some depression-like symptoms. It is very important that the positives are stressed for them and that the main focus in on what they can do (rather than what they can’t).
For more information on sharing disability information with your child please contact Dr. Heather Hurd