I spent last weekend with my three year old nephew, Kaine, and it got me thinking about how he sees me. I'm his Auntie Sarah, I use crutches, I use an electric wheelchair, I wear splints and take tablets, but most of all, I make a huge fuss out of him, I buy him toys when he's already got too many, and tickle him until he can't giggle any more. I know he loves me as much as I love him, and I'm grateful for all that he brings to my life.
KP is obviously far too young to know anything about my disability, and he certainly doesn't notice the challenges that I face. His naivety is refreshing, and his lack of understanding makes me forget that I'm different. He's very happy sitting on my knee when we go out in my powerchair, cranking up the speed and beeping at people as we whizz by. The silliness of it unleashes my inner-child, granted it doesn't take much, but laughing with him whilst I'm in my chair means I'm just his super-cool Aunt, who gets around on wheels. He's also completely amazed at the 'robot' in the boot of my car, my wheelchair hoist is pretty spectacular and an absolute lifesaver, but my nephew thinks it's one of the best things he's seen. He always helps with getting my chair out of the car, and the most mundane task becomes fun as his little blue eyes light up once it's in action.
I'm glad my nephew is being brought up around disabled people, (not that he knows it). There won't be any awkwardness or uneasiness when he grows up; a wheelchair, any mobility aid or disability shouldn't phase him as he's grown up with me and his Great Uncle. His candidness with his Great Uncle who had his leg amputated earlier this year makes you realise just how innocent children really are. And how quickly they adapt. Unlike adults that may feel uncomfortable around disabled people (if you're not disabled you might not realise that this happens), kids have no preconceptions, they don't see a disability, they don't see a missing limb, a hearing aid, a cane, they see a person, and they ask questions.
I find that kids are so blunt, and I appreciate that. 'Why are you in a wheelchair?' 'Where's your leg gone?' 'Can you walk?' They learn by asking questions and when it's something unfamiliar, they want to know about it, so teach them.
I often get quizzical looks from young children and will happily answer any questions they have, but when their parents are embarrassed, apologetic, and pulling them away, that's where the difficulty lies. I can obviously only speak for myself, but I would gladly talk to anyone about my condition, adult or child. The more openness and awareness the better.
Disability shouldn't be something that is hidden from children, they're much more willing to accept it than most adults, and whilst they're young it's important that they learn as much as they can and have many different experiences.
Kids adapt so quickly, don't think you're protecting them by shying away from topics that you, as an adult find uneasy. Let's make the next generation as accepting as we can.