According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that all children with disabilities ages 3 and up have access to special education and related services. Chances are that at some point in your child's educational life, she will have a class with a peer who has a disability. If you have concerns that your preschooler doesn't grasp why kids with disabilities may act differently than she does, try a few awareness activities to help her understand.
Picture books provide an educational way to help preschoolers learn about disabilities. Read an age-appropriate story with your child, stopping as you go through the book to ask him questions or see if he has any of his own. Read books such as "Andy and His Yellow Frisbee" by Mary Thompson, which is about a boy with autism, "A Picture Book of Helen Keller" by David A. Adler, or Dorothy Hoffman Levi's tale of a deaf girl, "A Very Special Sister."
Learning About Blind Children
Preschoolers may not understand why a blind child in their class is struggling to do things they consider basic. Have your child close her eyes or use a blindfold and walk around a room. Pay close attention to what she is doing and where she is going as she realizes the challenges of blindness. Watch her, making sure that she doesn't actually injure herself by tripping and falling or walking into walls. Never try this activity in the kitchen or any other room with heated appliances. Another option is to try an art activity, with your child blindfolded. Set out paper and finger paints, crayons, or markers, and ask her to create a picture without being able to see what she is doing.
According to Elizabeth Erwin, Ed.D. and Leslie Soodak, Ph.D., adults need to recognize that kids learn by watching them, making their own behaviors teachable moments. If your preschooler isn't sure how to act around a child with a disability, show her by setting a positive example. Act as a role model, teaching her that people with disabilities deserve respect, kindness and understanding. For example, if there is a child with a disability in your little one's preschool class -- and the teacher tells you that your child is unsure or nervous to approach his classmate -- take a trip into the class and strike up a conversation with the disabled student, build blocks with him or play a simple game.
Your preschooler may see an array of images in the media that feature children and adults with different disabilities. These may give your child either a positive or negative impression -- depending on the media content -- or leave him with questions. The child development experts at PBS Parents suggest that adults help to build disability awareness in their young children by proactive media use that includes favorable depictions of kids helping, respecting and sharing with kids who have disabilities. Additionally, parents should discuss negative media images of disabilities when they see them. For example, if you are watching a movie and your child sees the main character making fun of a person with a disability, talk about this behavior and why it is wrong. Help him to understand that this type of cruelty is hurtful and always inappropriate.