I got a great question from a friend. Rachel asked, "How do you want me to help my children understand how/why Micah is different (and the same) from them. I feel like we've done a pretty good job explaining, but I want my kids to have a compassionate understanding while at the same time understanding that people with different abilities are able to do MANY of the same things they do."
Great question! I'm not necessarily the right person to answer this question, because I've barely even talked to our Nathan about this. But... my personal experience is that it's ALWAYS best to focus on the similarities. That tends to make the differences less important. I think that helps all of our kids relate to kids that are different in any way from them (not just in their intellectual or physical development). Micah has friends, he smiles, he laughs, he climbs playsets, he knows his ABC's, colors, etc.... those are all things that most kids can relate to their own abilities.
I find it easiest to put it as close a context as possible. So, with your 5yr old, for example, when they ask why Micah can't run, you can point out how your child's younger sibling couldn't walk as soon as the 5yr old wanted him to walk. But look, now he can walk. That conversation also enables you to point out that Micah too had to crawl before he could walk too. and that he will learn to run, it just might take him longer than other kids.
If your child is old enough to understand the concept of strong versus weak, you could also tell your child that, most of the time, kids with Down syndrome have lower muscle tone than other kids (at a young age, I wouldn't try explaining that low tone does not mean "weak"), and that means they have to work harder than the rest of us to learn to do activities like crawling, walking, running, jumping, drawing, eating, etc.
I know other friends who have gone into early primary classrooms and discussed Down syndrome with the kids in the class. A book that lots of people use is We'll Paint the Octopus Red (I just got it on my iPad last night... it was on sale yesterday and might still be on sale). I know I'll do that with Micah's class someday. I'm not sure about Nathan's class. Does that do too much to point out that Nathan's brother is "different"? Any other parents out there have any thoughts?
Rachel, I so appreciate your heart to teach your children about respecting and honoring others.
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