Friday 11 March 2011

Nanny's Pushchair

Some time ago I posted a message on Twitter asking if there was anything specific anyone wanted my to write about on my blog.

I got a lovely message back asking if I could write a post about disability, specifically how children learn about, and ultimately how they react when they meet disabled people.

I've thought long and hard about this post. I wondered whether I should write it. You see, I can be clumsy with my words, I'm not exactly known for my politically correct speech, and the absolute last thing in the world I want to do is offend anyone.

I didn't want to write something that would be perceived as a 'simplistic' portrayal of the issues people face. However, it would be about how I deal with issues with my very young daughter, so in a sense my approach has to be simple and straightforward.

It saddened me to hear on Twitter that this lady was 'demonised' by children. That she suffered the upset and humiliation of being pointed at and laughed about simply because she's in a wheelchair. Or worse still, parents have hurried their children away from her as though she had some terrible contagious disease.

It occurred to me, that by not discussing such issues, we're only exacerbating the problem, and creating a stigma.

Ruby has grown up with some family members who have disabilities. It is perfectly normal and natural to her. Her great uncle is registered blind and uses a guide dog. From a very young age, she was told that Uncle's eyes don't work properly and he can't see, so he has a very special dog who helps him cross the road safely, go to the shops, get about the house... We arranged a visit to her nursery so the other children could meet and learn all about guide dogs and what it is like to be blind. It was an amazing experience to see 20 toddlers sit and listen in awe.

Ruby is also aware that some people use a wheelchair to get about, because they can't walk as well as we can. She is used to going out with her Great-grandmother who has mobility difficulties, and from a young age thought nothing of being pushed round the park - me pushing her in her pushchair, and my mum pushing her mum in the wheelchair.

It was a long time before she questioned why Nanny had a 'pushchair'. Well, why would she? As she was able to understand more and more, we explained that although Nanny can walk a little bit around the house, when she goes for longer journeys her legs don't work too well so the wheelchair (we no longer referred to it as a pushchair!) helps her get out and about.

Ruby also regularly sees wheelchair users on the bus. She has, in the past, shouted out (in true super-loud toddler fashion) "Look! That lady's got a wheelchair like Nanny has". Well, kids come out with things don't they? There's no point shushing her up. I simply replied (in an equally loud voice!) "Yes, she has. Perhaps she can't walk very well just like Nanny". I'd much prefer to be open and upfront, than try to change the subject and get embarrassed. It has happened a few times, sometimes it has opened up a conversation between the person and Ruby as they've explained why they are in a wheelchair, other times it hasn't, and we've just had a smile in exchange. But at least they didn't feel like we were talking about them behind their back.

A little while ago while we were at the swimming pool. A man came out to the poolside in a wheelchair. Ruby stopped splashing about and watched him - I don't mean she stared at him, we were a long way away in another pool. She just stood quietly and watched. I could see what was going through her mind as her wheeled his chair to the pool edge, in his swimming trunks, but I said nothing and let her see for herself what he was going to do.

He reached under his chair and retrieved 2 sticks, then raised himself out of the chair and shuffled to sit at the edge of the pool. He put his sticks down and dived in, and he was off. Swimming length after length.

Ruby watched all this without saying a word, and then carried on what she was doing. Perhaps I should have talked it through with her, but there didn't seem any need. It was a perfect example for her to see that he could approach things differently, yet still be able to do what others were doing.

In preparation for writing this post, we went to the library to see if there were any books specifically for pre-schoolers, to teach them about disabiltiy.  To be honest, we struggled to find anything suitable, but after some assistance from the librarian, we came away with a copy of 'I'm Special' by Jen Green.

It's a very sensitively approached book, which focuses on the feelings and difficulties faced due to people's attitudes.  It was a nice gentle book, which was about empowerment and focused on what people could do rather than what they couldn't, the underlying message being that everyone is different and everyone is special.

Interestingly, we came across a character in the book, Mr Black a headteacher.  Ruby remarked at the picture "look, he's only got one arm like Cerrie".  This really surprised me, because in all the time we have been watching cbeebies, she has never once commented on Cerrie's disability.  She has just accepted her for who she is. 


It occured to me that young children see new and different things all the time. They tend to accept them without trouble. It's not the children who are the issue here, it's more likely the parent's attitude that has lead to the upset my Twitter friend suffered.

I'm sure people living with a disability have enough difficulties to overcome, having my daughter point and laugh will not be one of them.

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  1. A brilliant and well thought out post!

    My son has never commented when he's seen someone with a disability, possibly because in his mind it's just another person. If he ever does have question I will answer as honestly and matter of factly as possible.

  2. What a great post. It's nice to see such a healthy attitude to disability from a child and more importantly from an adult and parent. My 17 yo has behavioural and mobility issues, they are slowly becoming less obvious which is helping to increase the confidence that intolerance and cruelty had threatened to destroy.
    I also have to say a big well done to CBeebies for bringing this issue to the attention of the younger generation whilst they're young enough to have faith in their own opinions and not be swayed by peers etc.

  3. Thank you both for your supportive comments.

    I do think it helps to talk openly about issues, and I'm really grateful for your feedback. x

  4. Brilliant post hun! I have family members with disabilities too, and my children have been brought up to have a positive attitude and an understanding of them. My Son even stood up to a group of teens who thought it was funny to mock a lady walking with sticks, which made me realise just how important it is for children to be educated, if you like, at a young age. After all, they learn from experience, and I believe a lot of these peoples ignorance is down to the fact they don't understand, so pass it off as weird or funny. I also applaud Cbeebies!

    I hope this makes sense, because like you say I often find it hard to say what I mean in type.. iykwim.

    Great post! Love the look of that book too...may dig that one out of the library.

  5. Great post Liz. My son once pointed at a person with dwarfism and said, loudly, 'Grandma, look at that grown-up pretending to be a little boy'. We encourage our children to look and name things they haven't seen before, 'Look it's a cow/train/rainbow' so we can't expect them not to point out new things they haven't seen before. I'm afraid this does result in people with disabilities getting pointed at, but I think your approach of yours to be open and upfront in return is the best one. The real problem is when older children make fun, like the teens mocking the lady walking with sticks in Whitelily's comment. Unfortunately it does seem the way of our world that there will always be people who mock those who are in some way different or less fortunate (in their eyes) than themselves. Well done to your son Whitelily for standing up to the mockers, and to Cbeebies for their enlightened approach to casting their presenters.

  6. This was a great post, Liz :)

    It is a shame how some people react, I wish more people were like you x

  7. Now that is an excellent post missus, well done! Thank you so much for linking up to ShowOff ShowCase because I don't think I saw this post first time around, and I'm glad I've seen it now.

    The Boy adores Something Special and I'm glad he does. I'm also really glad that Justin doesn't star able-bodied and disabled children together, because I think that would highlight the physical differences to children. Children are so accepting of everyone, as long as they are nice to them! I think that the vast majority of the time, it's the way that parents handle children's curiosity that is the issue, not the child's interest.

  8. An excellent post! As an ex Occupational Therapist I worked with people with all sorts of disabilties. I think it is normal for children to stare, as they would do at anything they have not seen before, but it is important to explain what is going on. Children are so accepting that once they have an explanation it is not an issue anymore. In my experience most of my clients would prefer the children to come and talk to them. x

  9. Great post. Children definitely don't see disabilities in the same way older children and adults do. Of course children do stare and maybe point but it is just curiosity and very innocent. X

  10. A great post with a great book recommendaton that will help children who do not face disabilities in their real life. I hope that my children will be as kind, understanding and accepting as yours x